Getting Enough Calcium As A Vegan
One of the biggest concerns many people have about switching to a vegan diet is getting enough calcium. Calcium is an essential nutrient for human health and also the most abundant mineral found in the body. It makes up a key part of bones and teeth, as well as playing roles in muscle contraction, maintaining a regular heartbeat and the transmission of nerve impulses, just to name a few. The dairy industry has led most people to believe that dairy consumption is essential for healthy bones and to meet our daily calcium requirements. People are taught to believe that they need to drink cow's milk to be healthy and build strong bones. What people usually forget is why that milk contains calcium in the first place!
Let me explain: Calcium is a mineral, and like all minerals, it is found in the soil where it is absorbed by the plants that grown in the soil. Cows then go on to eat these plants and metabolise the calcium, which as result of this is found in their milk.
Cows only produce milk when they are pregnant. And the purpose of cow's milk, like any milk produced by mammals, is to provide their young (calves) with the nutrients they need, such as calcium, to grow and develop when they can't yet eat solid food of their own. Sure, milk therefore does contain calcium, but it also contains considerable amounts of saturated fat, cholesterol, hormones and bacteria. Cow's milk is essential growth fluid for baby cows. Wouldn't you rather go back to the source and get your calcium from plants too, along with a whole lot of other nutrients, while avoiding all of these unnecessary things?
It really isn't difficult to get enough calcium through eating a diet centered around whole plant foods! It is actually much more important where you get your calcium from, than how much of it you consume. Animal protein (such as dairy) is highly acidic, which leads our alkaline bodies to have to leach essential minerals, such as calcium and phosphorous, from our bones in order to neutralise this acidic state and keep our pH levels balanced when animal products are consumed. The leaching of minerals from our bones leads to brittle, frail bones and decreased bone mineral density, a leading cause of osteoporosis, and also arthritis. Studies have shown correlations between dairy consumption and bone fracture risk, with populations how consume the most dairy also having the highest rates of osteoporosis and fractures. Plant protein, however, does not have this effect.
Fun fact: We actually absorb the calcium from greens better than the calcium in cow's milk!
All whole plant foods contain small amounts of calcium which will contribute to your daily total. But some that are especially high in calcium include: dark green leafy vegetables, almonds, tofu, sesame seeds, beans, chickpeas and soy beans, blackstrap molasses, amaranth, broccoli, dried figs, tempeh, dates, oranges, tahini, butternut squash, dried apricots...
Strong and healthy bones also rely on two other factors alongside getting enough calcium. These are: making sure you get enough Vitamin D from the sun, which helps the absorption and balance of calcium in the body, and also exercising regularly. Exercise puts healthy stress on the bones, promoting the rebuilding of bone and in turn making them stronger!
If you are still concerned about whether or not your diet is sufficient in calcium, I would highly recommend getting a blood test to check your levels (I would get a full blood test done every 6 months or so, regardless of whether you are vegan or not) and perhaps entering a few day's worth of your typical intake into a nutrition database, such as cronometer.com, to check and make some changes if needed!
Nutrition Questions, Lederman, M & Pulde, A
Plants, not Pills, for Vitamins and Minerals, 2003, McDougall, J,
Calcium in Plant Based Diets, Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine,
How Not to Die, 2016, Greger, M, Flatiron Books, New York
Dietary calcium: adequacy of a vegetarian diet, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 1994, Weaver, CM & Plawecki, KL