If you’re dairy free, or on a vegan diet, you might be wondering whether you can get the calcium you need from plants. Well, this plant-based dietitian is here to tell you that you absolutely can, without a supplement! Read on for the many reasons why calcium is important to your diet and check out this list of 25 vegan calcium sources to enjoy more often.
As a dietitian who has been writing about plant-based nutrition her entire career, I’ve got to say that it always surprises me that folks are way more concerned about plant-based protein – which couldn’t be easier to get – than about the nutrients that are truly important to living a healthy life on plants, like fibre, iron and calcium. I’ve talked about these nutrients in my book, Eat More Plants, but I wanted to offer a deeper dive on calcium here on the blog too.
Most people think they need a calcium supplement if they’re vegan…but after reading this, I hope you realize how easy it is to get plant-based calcium into your life! There is a ton of information here, so use this table of contents to help you jump to the information you need most.
What is calcium?
Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the human body. Adult bodies contain over a kilogram (2.2 lbs) of calcium!
If you want a refresher from your high school science days, remember the periodic table of elements? It contains minerals! In fact, many minerals important to human health like iron, copper, zinc and yes, calcium, are on the periodic table. These minerals are the basic elements of all life and matter on earth.
What does calcium do for the body?
Calcium builds strong bones, sure, but it does a whole lot more than that! Our bones contain 98% of all the calcium in the body and calcium gives bones strength. However, you can think of your bones as a calcium bank, because the 2% of calcium that is left coursing through your bloodstream is critical to maintaining a ton of functions you probably didn’t realize:
- Circulation: calcium helps blood vessels contract and plays a role in blood clotting
- Muscles: your muscles need calcium to contract
- Hormones: calcium plays a role in hormone secretion
- Nervous system: calcium is essential to help messages travel along the nerves
How much calcium do you need?
Calcium recommendations differ in different countries. Here in Canada, it is recommended that adults 19-50 consume 1000mg of calcium daily. In the UK, recommended intake is 700mg while the WHO recommends 500mg.
Calcium needs do not go up in pregnancy. For women over 50, that number goes up to 1200mg a day to reflect the loss of estrogen, which is protective of bones. Men catch up to the 1200mg daily dose after age 70.
Your bone is a dynamic tissue: it is constantly breaking down and being rebuilt. Because your blood calcium is so critical to daily function, your blood calcium levels are tightly regulated by the body. If you do not consume enough calcium, your body will rob your bones to get what it needs. So, consuming enough calcium on a daily basis is kind of important!!!
How much calcium will I absorb from plant based sources?
Plus, the more calcium in your diet, the less you absorb…which makes the case that more is not always better. In addition, the bioavailability of calcium is different in different foods and meals. For example, bioavailability of calcium from milk is roughly 30%. Phytates and oxalates in plant foods can reduce the bioavailability of calcium, but they don’t eliminate it! Spinach has a lower bioavailability due to oxalates, which is why I haven’t put it on this list. On the other hand, the calcium in low oxalate greens like broccoli and kale may be 50% bioavailable.
Top 26 vegan calcium sources
After decades of industry-led promotion, dairy is certainly the most well-known source of calcium, but it’s not the only game in town! There are plenty of vegan foods high in calcium to help you build strong bones. These dairy free calcium sources are healthy, easy to find and delicious!
Calcium-rich nuts + seeds
- Almonds: ¼ cup of almonds contains 97mg of calcium
- Almond butter: 2 tablespoons of almond butter contains 113mg of vegan-friendly calcium
- Chia seeds: 1 tablespoon of chia seeds contains 68 mg of calcium
- Sesame seeds: 2 tablespoons of sesame seeds contains 10 mg calcium
- Tahini: 2 tablespoons of tahini contains 130 mg calcium
Grains + beans high in calcium
- Amaranth: ½ cup cooked amaranth contains 61 mg of plant-based calcium
- Black beans: ½ cup cooked black beans contain 25 mg of calcium
- Chickpeas: ½ cup cooked chickpeas contains 42 mg of calcium
- Edamame: ½ cup cooked edamame contains 138 mg of vegan-friendly calcium
- Tofu: ½ cup extra firm calcium-set tofu has 267 mg of calcium
- Tempeh: ½ cup of tempeh contains 97 mg calcium
- White beans (like navy beans): ½ cup of cooked navy beans contains 66 mg calcium
Calcium rich vegetables + fruit
- Acorn squash: 1 cup of cooked squash contains 67mg of plant-based calcium
- Bok choy: 1 cup of cooked bok choy contains 167mg of calcium
- Broccoli: 1 cup of cooked broccoli contains 66mg of calcium
- Collard greens: 1 cup of cooked collards contains 283mg of calcium (higher oxalate)
- Dried figs: ½ cup dried figs contains 127 mg calcium
- Gai lan: 1 cup of cooked gai lan contains 93 mg of plant-based calcium
- Kale: 1 cup of cooked kale contains 99mg of calcium
- Kiwi: 1 medium kiwi contains 23 mg of calcium
- Okra: 1 cup of cooked okra contains 130 mg of calcium
- Oranges: 1 medium orange contains 52mg of vegan calcium
- Prunes: 1 cup of dried plums contains 79mg calcium
- Sweet potato: 1 cup cooked sweet potatoes contains 80mg calcium
Dairy-free sources of calcium
Fortified non-dairy milk alternatives are an incredibly convenient source of calcium. I highly recommend drinking a cup a day to help you meet your calcium needs!
- Soy milk: 1 cup of enriched soy beverage has 315mg calcium
- Other calcium-fortified plant-based milk alternatives: similar to soy milk. In the US, they may contain up to 450mg calcium per cup! We don’t allow that level of fortification in Canada.
Non-dairy notes: many non-dairy alternatives such as ice cream, yogurt and cheese DO NOT contain added calcium, although some do so check the label. Some mineral waters, such as Gerolsteiner, are also very rich in calcium!
Other vegetarian sources of calcium
- Blackstrap molasses: 1 tablespoon of blackstrap molasses has 179mg calcium