Calcium For Vegans
One of the most common questions I get as nutritionist is if a vegan diet is healthy enough or how to follow a vegan diet without lacking in nutrients, particularly, is there such a thing as calcium for vegans? There are usually long debates about protein and B12 and a big market with food alternatives and supplements for them, but how about Calcium?
Calcium, which is undoubtedly abundant in carnivore, pescatarian and vegetarian diets seems to be the “forgotten” nutrient in a vegan diet. Can vegans get the necessary calcium levels from their food? The answer is Yes! Calcium for vegans is a real thing, if appropriate knowledge and careful meal planning are applied.
Calcium is essential for healthy bones and teeth but also for efficient muscle, heart and nerve function. While it can be found in high levels in meat, fish and dairy, having too much of these foods may make your body acidic (low PH) inducing inflammation and negating the rich calcium intake positive effects with exactly the opposite (bone loss, joint, muscle and nerve dysfunction/pains and aches, dysmenorrhea).
In a vegan diet where animal products are completely avoided, such inflammatory acidic effects cannot happen. This is a great PLUS! All you have to do is just ensure you are getting enough calcium.
What our are daily needs for calcium?
An adult (18-45 yrs of age) should get 500mg-1000mg of calcium per day depending on their lifestyle and individual needs, i.e. an athlete or active individual may need more. This should be increased for lactating and pregnant women and children by a third or so. Over 45 when bone density naturally decreases or when there is a history of osteopenia or osteoporosis (i.e. thin bones) this should be increased to 1200-1500mg a day.
Dark leafy greens, beans and pulses, fortified dairy-free alternatives, nuts and seeds, tahini and nut butters, tofu and tempeh can all be great calcium sources. For example you can get up to ¼ - ½ of your necessary intake with 50-100 grams of tofu, a big serving of spring greens, kales or okras (150-200gr), or 2 handful of brazil nuts. Dried fruit also contain some calcium but you should be careful with these since their sugar content (even though natural sugars) can be high, especially if you aim to maintain a healthy weight or if you have diabetes or sugar intolerance.
Some indicative levels are mentioned below:
|Baked beans||220 g (one half of a large can)||100 mg|
|Enriched soya/rice milk||200 ml||240 mg|
|Enriched orange juice||250 ml||300 mg|
|Tofu||100 g||500 mg|
|Spring greens||100 g||200 mg|
|Spinach||100 g||150 mg|
|Watercress||50 g||75 mg|
|Broccoli||50 g||30 mg|
|Okra||50 g||130 mg|
|Kale||50 g||65 mg|
|Chickpeas||100 g||45 mg|
|Almonds||15 g||35 mg|
|Brazil nuts||15 g||26 mg|
|Sesame seeds||one tablespoon||160 mg|
|Dried figs||60 g (three figs)||150 mg|
|Calcium-enriched bread||Two slices (80 g)||300 mg|
|Currants||100 g||93 mg|
However, this may not be enough! Because it is not only what we eat, but also what we absorb!
For optimal absorption and utilisation of calcium there are two essential factors.
- Vitamin D
- Balanced flora and healthy gut function
Very little vitamin D can actually be acquired from food. Most is produced endogenously when ultraviolet sunlight strikes the skin to trigger vitamin D synthesis.
Current daily recommended levels for vitamin D are 10-25 mcg (400IU-1000IU) for adults and children and 10mcg(400IU) for babies. However, in northern European climates where there is less winter sunlight or when sun exposure is limited (covering up for cultural reasons or to avoid sunburn and heat) these levels should be increased. Vegan sources of vitamin D3 which is its most efficient form can primarily be found in mushrooms and some algae only, so supplementing may be necessary.
To ensure optimal gut function, make sure you practice “mindful” eating, prefer wholefoods and fresh produce when you can, avoid refined and processed foods, manage stress and address any gut issues with your doctor or a registered nutritionist.
To conclude, even though a vegan diet may require a bit more effort to have sufficient calcium it can provide a great non-acidic anti-inflammatory environment for excellent absorption and a great opportunity to get healthier with more energy and vigour in your everyday life.
Looking for some yummy vegan guilt free treats? Check out Pulsin's High Fibre Brownies.