I’m going to wow you with a fun statistic straight off the bat… 99% of the calcium in our bodies is stored in our bones and teeth, and it is one of the most important minerals for our health. I think most people are aware of the benefits of calcium in maintaining our bones and teeth, but this is not the only purpose of this vital mineral. Calcium is vital in the regulation of muscle contractions, like our heartbeat, and making sure that our blood clots properly. It also assists in transmitting nerve signals, releasing hormones, and maintaining and regulating the optimal functioning of our blood vessels.
We cannot produce our own calcium, so we have to make sure we are getting what we need from our diet, potentially with daily supplementation to ensure that we are not putting ourselves at risk of a deficiency.
What are the signs of a calcium deficiency?
A deficiency in calcium can cause some serious problems within the body. A lack of calcium within the blood can lead to osteoporosis, osteopenia and hypocalcemia (also known as calcium deficiency disease) in adults. In children, a calcium deficiency can cause rickets, which affects bone growth and can lead to soft bones and even bone deformities in later life.
Symptoms of a calcium deficiency include low mood and depression, muscle spasms, weak or brittle nails, slower hair growth and changes to your skin. Over time, this can lead to easily fracturing bones and numbness in our extremities.
However, getting too much calcium can also be a problem for our health. Consistently taking more than 1,500mg of calcium per day can lead to health complications including stomach pain and diarrhoea.
Where can vegans get calcium in their diet?
Adults need around 700mg of calcium per day, and there are a huge variety of ways to achieve that with a healthy, whole foods, plant-based diet. Let’s have a look at some of the wonderful foods which pack high amounts of calcium.
I’m not going to list every plant-based source of calcium here, as that would take a very, very long time. However, here are my ten favourite sources of vegan calcium:
- Broccoli! One 80g serving of broccoli gives you 25mg of calcium, but if you choose purple sprouting broccoli, that jumps right up to 88mg!
- Okra, also known as lady fingers, are a very underrated vegetable in my opinion. Not only are they super tasty, they contain 75mg per 80g serving.
- Everyone’s favourite leafy green, Kale, has a whopping 185mg of calcium per 80g serving - cooked!
- In terms of fruit, kiwi is an excellent source of calcium, with one kiwi containing around 24mg of calcium. Plus, they make an excellent mid-morning snack.
- Bok choy, also known as Chinese Cabbage or Pak Choi, is another excellent source of calcium - with 105mg per serving. I love it in a stir fry with mushrooms and peppers, and a spicy satay sauce for good measure!
- Dried fruits. As an example, there is 75mg of calcium to be gained from a 30g portion of dried figs!
- Tahini! Break out the houmous! Tahini, a paste made from sesame seeds, contains huge amounts of calcium with 130mg per 2 tablespoons. It’s also great on roasted veg if you’re not a fan of houmous!
- Soybeans: Soybeans, miso, tempeh, edamame, tofu, all of these wonderful ingredients contain varying amounts of calcium, and all of them taste fantastic, what’s not to love!
- Fortified plant milks and yoghurts are a great starting point as a basis for a smoothie, or a snack. Not only are they fortified with calcium, but other key vitamins and minerals, which makes them convenient as well as super flexible.
- Almonds - Nuts in general are brilliant for calcium, but almonds give you around 97mg per 35g serving. Plus, they taste great toasted in salads!
Bonus: Supplementation! There are a number of supplements that you can take to help keep your levels of essential minerals and vitamins up, and you can find specific plant-based blends to give you a boost. If you prefer your supplements in capsule form, Vivo Life’s Vegan Multinutrient offers 200mg of calcium from plant-based sources, alongside vitamins D3 and K2. The body requires Vitamin D to help with the absorption and regulation of calcium and phosphate, so making sure you’re getting enough Vitamin D is very important, especially through the winter.
If, however, you prefer your supplements powdered, so that you can add them to a smoothie, why not try THRIVE, Vivo Life’s Greens Powder and Multinutrient which also contains calcium, alongside other essential vitamins, minerals and live cultures.
As you can see, there are plenty of plant-based sources which contain calcium, but the body’s ability to absorb it is lower than in other forms due to the higher oxalate (oxalic acid) content in plants, which makes calcium less bioavailable. Oxalates bind themselves to calcium as they leave the body, preventing it from being absorbed, and increasing the chances of conditions like kidney stones. Now, foods which contain a higher amount of oxalates are often nutritious in a number of ways, so avoiding them altogether is not going to have a completely beneficial effect. If you are concerned about the levels of oxalates in your foods or have a history of kidney problems, then you can consult a dietician to go through your options for reducing these levels.