Many plant-based foods are excellent sources of calcium
There is a misconception that vegans/vegetarians do not get adequate amounts of calcium without consuming dairy products. Yes, dairy products do contain high amounts of calcium, but they certainly are not the ONLY source of calcium.
Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body. It is responsible for nerve transmission, muscle function, hormonal secretion, and 99% of it lends itself to structure and strength in our bones. So, is Calcium important? Absolutely!
Although we consume calcium through various foods, our bodies cannot absorb all the calcium we ingest. Vitamin D and K are needed, along with Magnesium, to help our bodies absorb it at a higher level, so including foods not only rich in calcium, but also rich in these other nutrients in the same meal, is important.
You don't have to consume dairy to get enough calcium in your diet, but it's important to intake foods high in other vitamins and minerals to increase calcium absorption
Foods you should include for optimum calcium absorption:
- Salmon (high in vitamin D & Calcium)
- Egg Yolks (high in vitamin D & Calcium)
- Fortified Plant-Milks (high in vitamin D & Calcium)
- Dark Leafy Greens (specifically kale, broccoli, bok choy, & collard greens)
- Seeds (especially tahini, chia, & flax)
- Nuts (especially brazil & almonds)
- Tofu (with calcium sulfate)
- Oranges, Figs, & Raspberries
- Beans & Lentils
- Amaranth & Teff
- Seaweed & Barley Grass Powder
Vitamin D enables the body to absorb the calcium and Vitamin K activates proteins that guide the calcium into our bones and teeth so it doesn’t accumulate in our blood. Magnesium suppresses the secretion of parathyroid hormone (PTH), which tells calcium to go to soft tissues instead of our bones.
A few concerns around calcium levels in individuals who do not consume dairy products is oxalic acid (found in spinach) and phytic acid (found in grains) and their ability to bind to calcium and prevent absorption. Many people, upon learning this, become overwhelmed with this one question: How am I supposed to eat a healthy diet, rich in whole grains and leafy greens as recommended by every health professional and maintain adequate calcium levels?
Here's the good news! Sprouting, cooking, baking, soaking, fermenting, and yeast leavening minimize phytates significantly, so by the time we consume whole grains, these levels are considerably lower, so calcium absorption is not as affected. Similarly, studies have found that if you consume the recommended daily amount of calcium, the effects of oxalic acid, isn’t seen because you consume a much higher amount than it can bind too. So rest assured, continuing to eat a well-balanced diet rich in leafy greens, whole grains, healthy fats, lean protein, and plant-based milks will provide your body with an adequate amount of calcium to prevent deficiency. Being mindful of foods also right in Vitamin D & K and magnesium, will further ensure adequate absorption.
Foods high in Vitamin D: egg yolks, salmon, whitefish, fortified plant milk, fortified orange juice, and mushrooms
Foods high in Vitamin K: broccoli, brussel sprouts, leafy greens, and asparagus
Foods high in Magnesium: spinach, seeds (especially pumpkin seeds), brown rice, almonds, avocados, and tuna
Fun Fact: Barley Grass Powder contains 11x the amount of calcium as cow's milk!
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