If you surveyed a bunch of people about where you get calcium from, they would probably say dairy, right? We have all grown up believing that we need to eat dairy for strong teeth and bones. But is this really true? Can we get all the calcium we need from plant-based foods only?
As a vegan and a nutritionist, one of the top two questions I always get asked is “Where do you get your calcium from if you don’t eat dairy?” Well, it’s easy. I eat vegetables, fruits, sprouts, grasses, nuts, seeds, beans, legumes, grains, seaweed, herbs, and spices.
Yep, you guessed it! You can actually get calcium from all sorts of plant-based foods—in varying degrees, of course.
The problem is that for generations, we have all been programmed by a strong dairy lobby to believe that milk and other dairy products are essential for building strong teeth and bones because of their high calcium content, but this is not based on science.
That’s right. It’s not actually based on any real science! In fact, an increasing amount of evidence is telling us a different story. It’s showing us that dairy is not the wonder food we’ve been led to believe—it may actually weaken our bones.
Dairy contains high amounts of certain proteins that are acidic in nature. Our blood pH is regulated to stay within the narrow range of 7.35 to 7.45, making it slightly alkaline. In order to rebalance the body’s delicate pH, calcium and other alkalising minerals are leached from your bones, making your bones potentially weaker.
But it doesn’t end there. Bones aren’t just made of calcium. Bones are the storehouses of minerals for your entire body. So when any of your bodily processes need a particular mineral, it gets it from your bones.
Why am I telling you this?
Well, think about it. It means that you don’t get osteoporosis and brittle bones from just a lack of calcium—you get it from a lack of minerals throughout your entire body.
And if bones aren’t made entirely of calcium, that also means that you can’t just strengthen your bones by taking calcium supplements, drinking lots of milk, or eating loads of dairy products and calcium-fortified foods.
So what’s the solution?
Eat a variety of whole plant-based foods—especially “greens and beans,” which are a great source of calcium and other important minerals, proteins, and phytonutrients that are ideal for building strong bones.
A word of warning, though, if spinach (silver beet) is your favourite green: Spinach is high in oxalic acid, which binds to calcium and other minerals in your gut, making them less bioavailable. But that doesn’t mean you should give up spinach. It just means you should eat it in moderation and include some other greens as well—variety is the key.
One more thing. Adequate vitamin D is every bit as important as calcium for maintaining healthy bones. So make sure you get at least 10–15 minutes of sun exposure every day or otherwise take a vegan-friendly vitamin D3 supplement.
6 Great Sources of Plant-Based Calcium
- White Beans (1 cup, soaked then cooked) - 161mg
- Tempeh (100g cooked) - 96mg
- Kale (1 cup chopped, raw) - 90mg
- Chinese cabbage (1 cup shredded, raw) - 73mg
- Oranges (1 fruit; 140g) - 60.2mg
- Cinnamon [Cassia] (2 tsp ground) - 50mg
Nutrition data sourced from nutritiondata.com.
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Fiona Halar is a wholefood nutritionist and long-term vegan whose aim is to inspire people with engaging ideas, perceptive insights, and passionate action, to create vibrant health.
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