Calcium is essential in maintaining overall bone health, regulating blood pressure, and preventing blood clotting. The Reference Daily Intake (RDI) for adults per day is 1000 mg, 1200 mg for people over 50, and 1300 mg for children between the ages of 4 and 18. Most people fail to meet this recommended calcium dosage, including many who avoid consuming dairy and animal products.
While milk and other dairy products are excellent sources of calcium, there are also various plants and plant-based products packed with this mineral, fiber, and protein. Incorporating these plants into your daily diet will give your body enough calcium to meet the RDI.
Why is Calcium Important?
Calcium is the most plentiful mineral in the human body, and getting enough of it is vital in maintaining optimum health. 99% of the calcium in the body is stored in teeth and bones and contributes to the healthy functioning of the cells. It allows blood to clot, enables muscle contraction, supports regular heart rhythm, and assists the cells in regulating metabolism.
Calcium also fundamentally treats or prevents different health conditions associated with metabolism and cell growth. These include preventing osteoporosis and bone fractures, maintaining healthy blood pressure, and preventing hypertension.
Getting Enough Calcium on a Plant-based Diet
If you are following a plant-based diet, you might not be getting enough calcium in your regular meals. You should focus on incorporating calcium-rich products into the cooking mix to avoid calcium deficiencies. Below are some of the best sources of calcium that will help you achieve your recommended daily intake.
Fortified Plant-based Milk
You can find various plant-based kinds of milk in the market today, whether to make a hot beverage, add to your favorite cereal, or enjoy it on its own. Remember that not all milk is created equal, so check the label and find the calcium component inside. Also, look out for added oils, salt, sugar, and other additives. Whether you have allergies or intolerance to certain nuts or plants, you can find numerous fortified milk options that are vegan, lactose, and dairy free. These include:
- Soymilk: contains all the fundamental amino acids and calcium and is the closest to cow’s milk.
- Sesame milk: if you enjoy the taste of tahini or sesame, this is undoubtedly an option you will enjoy. Sesame milk is not very creamy, and it doesn’t thicken when heated, either. It also packs calcium and iron, both important for health.
- Almond milk: contains more calcium than cow’s milk (482 mg or 45% of the RDI)
Soybeans are a natural calcium powerhouse. 175 grams (1 cup) of cooked soybeans cover 18.5% of the recommended calcium dose. On the other hand, the same quantity of edamame (also called immature soybeans) provides 27.6% of the RDI.
Foods containing soybeans, such as tempeh, tofu, and natto, are also rich in calcium. Tofu fortified with calcium phosphate offers 350 mg per 100 grams. Soy foods that are minimally processed are also brimmed with vitamins, fiber, and minerals. Moreover, they are seen as one of the rare plant foods that act as a complete protein source. The reason is that while most plant-based foods lack at least one of the 9 key amino acids, soybeans provide sufficient quantities.
Leafy greens are a rich source of calcium, but they also contain high amounts of an element known as oxalates, which prevents the optimum absorption of calcium in the body. Endives, spinach, and beet greens are highly nutritious but not the best source of calcium due to their high oxalate content. To get enough calcium while on a plant-based diet, you should look for leafy greens that are low in oxalates, such as kale, bok choy, turnip greens, mustard greens, collard greens, romaine lettuce, Brussels sprouts, and watercress.
Seeds, nuts, and beans
Unsurprisingly, seeds, nuts, and beans are important sources of essential minerals. However, the amount of calcium in these foods will vary from type to type, so check the amounts and read the labels properly.
30 grams of almonds, for example, contains approximately 75 mg of calcium, and 100 grams of white beans packs the same. White beans are an excellent source of calcium; the ideal way to consume them is by soaking or sprouting them.
Incorporating seaweed in your daily meals is another way to get sufficient calcium intake. Wakame is a kind of seaweed typically consumed in raw form and provides approximately 12% of the RDI per 80 grams. Another excellent option is kelp, which can be either dried or raw. A cup of raw kelp can be added to main dishes or salads to achieve 14% calcium RDI. Dehydrated kelp leaves can also be used as a seasoning.
Blackstrap molasses is a great addition to satisfy your sweet tooth. It is derived from sugarcane that has been boiled a total of 3 times. Unlike regular sugar, it contains various minerals and vitamins, including enough calcium to provide 18% of the RDI per tablespoon. In addition, a single tablespoon of blackstrap molasses can also cover approximately 5 to 15 percent of your daily recommended doses of selenium, manganese, magnesium, vitamin B6, and iron. Keeping that in mind, remember that blackstrap molasses is loaded with sugar, so be sure to consume it in controlled amounts.
Calcium is a crucial mineral required by the body to maintain the overall health of muscles and bones, along with the smooth functioning of the nervous and circulatory systems. Still, many people, including vegans, often lack this nutrient due to unbalanced diets.
You should add at least 3 cups of calcium-rich foods daily, especially leafy greens, nuts, seeds or beans, and fortified plant-based milk. Spread these foods throughout the day to benefit from their goodness in each meal. This will allow your body to better absorb the mineral as it can only do so at a specific amount.
About the Author
Lori Bogedin is a health and wellness writer and editor of TwigsCafe.com. She is in the restaurant business since 1999. In 2016 she was named one of the "Top Women in Business" by Northeastern Pennsylvania Business Journal.