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Earth First

Calcium From A Plant-Based Diet | Vegan Calcium Sources

It's no longer a bone of contention: you can definately meet your calcium requirements on a plant-based diet! We examine the science behind the belief that you need to eat dairy to grow strong bones, debunking 5 popular myths in the process.

Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the human body. It’s required for muscle function, nerve signals, healthy hormone secretion, and other crucial metabolic functions, but it’s best known for its role in keeping our bones strong and healthy. In fact, 99% of the body’s calcium is stored in the bones and teeth.1

Plant Based Calcium

Dairy products like milk, yoghurt and cheese are rich in calcium, and so eating dairy has become associated with growing strong bones. But luckily for those looking to eat a plant-based diet, dairy isn’t the only source of calcium, and you don’t necessarily need dairy for a strong skeleton. 

Myth #1: Dairy is the only food rich in calcium

While dairy products such as milk, cheese and yoghurt contain lots of calcium per serving, they are not the only source of this important ‘bone mineral’. Even if you steer away from the dairy aisle, you can still boost your calcium intake by eating:

  • more dark leafy greens (such as broccoli, kale, and collard greens), 
  • seeds (e.g. sesame seeds), 
  • beans, 
  • seaweed and 
  • tofu 

Some brands of plant-based “milk” also contain extra added calcium, meaning simply switching out cows’ milk for a fortified plant-based milk alternative could give your diet the dose of calcium you’re looking for.2

Check out four surprising foods that have more calcium than milk.

Myth #2: Calcium from cow’s milk is more easily absorbed

Actually, it’s not! When it comes to absorbing calcium, fortified plant “milks” (such as soy, almond or oat) are on a par with cow’s milk. Studies suggest that it doesn’t matter which of these milk alternatives you drink, so long as it contains calcium: our body absorbs calcium just as well from enriched soy milk as it does from cows’ milk, for example.3

To make sure you get the most calcium from your plant-based “milk”, though, there is one trick you need to know.  The calcium in such “milks” tends to settle to the bottom of the carton. This issue is easily solved by going James Bond on the box: give it a good shake before pouring, and you’ll make sure that your glass contains a full dose of calcium.4

Myth #3: Calcium is all you need to maintain healthy bones

Getting enough calcium is important for maintaining bone health, but there’s a caveat: it’s not the only determinant. Experts recommend keeping up your Vitamin D, K and B12 levels and limiting your salt intake. Regular exercise is also really important to keep your bones healthy at any age, as it increases bone strength and density.5,6,7,8 Generally, focusing on a well-balanced diet is far more important than relying on specific foods to meet your nutritional needs. 

Myth #4: Children need cow’s milk to grow up big and strong

Milk is often associated with helping children grow, but even though children need more calcium than adults, they don’t necessarily need to consume dairy to meet their calcium needs. As explored above, there are plenty of plant-based sources where children can obtain the calcium they need to grow strong bones. Children should have 3-5 servings of calcium-rich foods per day to meet their increased requirements during growth.9 

Infants meet their calcium needs mostly through breastfeeding or formula.12

Recommended Calcium intake
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) recommends a daily calcium intake of 900mg daily. Depending on age, children (4-17 years) are recommended to eat between 700 and 950mg of calcium daily.10  Some European organisations, such as the German association for nutrition, recommend a higher calcium intake for pregnant and lactating women (1200-1300mg daily).11 

Calcium-rich foods to add to your plant-based menu1 

Here are some plant-based calcium sources:

  • Almond butter: 2 tbsp = 112 mg of calcium
  • Seaweed: 100g = 600 - 900 mg of calcium
  • Tahini (sesame paste): 2 tbsp = 204 mg of calcium
  • Green beans (dry weight): 100g = 535 mg of calcium
  • Fortified plant milk alternative: 100 ml = 130 - 200 mg of calcium

A plant-based diet should always be well-managed and balanced to ensure the body receives all its nutritional needs. While a plant-based diet is certainly possible for all ages, it’s recommended to have proper dietary supervision from medical professionals, especially for infants and growing children, as well as women who may be pregnant or breastfeeding.14,15,16

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References
  1. Tang AL, et al. Calcium absorption in Australian osteopenic post-menopausal women: an acute comparative study of fortified soymilk to cows' milk. 2010. Accessed 05.08.2020.
  2. Heany RP, et al. Not All Calcium-fortified Beverages Are Equal, 2005. Accessed. 05.08.2020.
  3. Agonoli C, et al. Position paper on vegetarian diets from the working group of the Italian Society of Human Nutrition. 2017. Accessed. 05.08.2020.
  4. Barr S, et al. Spinal bone mineral density in premenopausal vegetarian and nonvegetarian women: cross-sectional and prospective comparisons. Accessed 05.08.2020.
  5. Hermann W, et al. Enhanced bone metabolism in vegetarians--the role of vitamin B12 deficiency. 2009. Accessed 05.08.2020.
  6. Krivosíková Z, et al. The association between high plasma homocysteine levels and lower bone mineral density in Slovak women: The impact of vegetarian diet, 2010. Accessed 05.08.2020.
  7. Baroni L, et al. VegPlate: A Mediterranean-Based Food Guide for Italian Adult, Pregnant, and Lactating Vegetarians, 2017. Accessed 05.08.2020.
  8. EFSA Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies. Scientific Opinion on Dietary Reference Values for Calcium. 2017. Accessed 23.09.2020.
  9. Deutsche Gesellschaft für Ernährung. Referenzwerte – Calcium. Accessed 05.08.2020.
  10. Mangels A, et al. Considerations in planning vegan diets: Infants. 2001. Accessed 05.08.2020.
  11. Baroni L, et al. Planning Well-Balanced Vegetarian Diets in Infants, Children, and Adolescents: The VegPlate Junior. 2018.
  12. Amit M. Vegetarian diets in children and adolescents. 2010. Accessed 05.08.2020.
  13. Fewtrell M, et al. Complementary Feeding: A Position Paper by the European Society for Paediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Nutrition (ESPGHAN) Committee on Nutrition, 2017. Accessed 05.08.2020.
  14. Public Health England, McCance and Widdowson's composition of foods integrated dataset (Cofid), 2019 Accessed 31.08.2020.
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