How much calcium do vegans need? This will be the focus of your fireside chat today. Calcium is perhaps the second biggest bogey man to intimidate folks about choosing a vegan diet. Right after protein the next question you’ll be peppered with will be “where do you get your calcium?”
What this says to me is just how powerful our meat and dairy lobbies have been in hoodwinking the general public into believing that calcium is required in vast amounts and that you can only get enough from drinking cow’s milk. And if you don’t drink enough cow’s milk to get the outrageous calcium requirements that the scary dairy lobby says you need, you’ll end up like the Hunchback of Nostredame with osteoporosis and eventually broken bones.
Well, that’s weird, ‘cos last I checked the elephant is the biggest land animal with the biggest bones and I’ve never seen her sucking on cow’s udders. Hmmm… let’s think about that for a moment.
Gorillas are pretty hefty too and therefore have pretty big bones and well, come to think of it, I never did sees a gorilla laying under a cow sucking her teats.
But maybe we’re special. Maybe humans are supposed to suck on cow titties and get cow’s milk because we’re just such an abomination of nature. Nah, I don’t think so.
Anyway, I’m heading out on a bit of a tangent so let’s bring me back into focus on the amount of calcium needed by vegans.
The recommendation is the same for vegans as it is for most folks. The Recommended Dietary Allowances or RDAs for Calcium for adults are as high as 1,300mg for pregnant, lactating and teen aged females to a low of 1,000mg for males and females aged 19 to 50. It goes up to 1,200 for females aged 51+. Click on the link to see the complete RDAs for all ages of life.
Frankly, these figures are outrageous and inflated in my opinion and the opinion of others. I think that more realistic and reasonable figures to go for would be half that amount or 500 to 600mg of calcium for adults.
You see, the problem is that the more protein you eat and especially the more animal protein you eat the more acid you’re bringing into your system. There is a reason that protein is made up of amino acids. See that last word “acids” that’s really what you’re eating. And the more protein you eat the more acid your body has to get rid of because your body can’t store very much protein at all. Dr. McDougall explains this here.
Further there is ample evidence to suggest that the less protein you eat and the less salt, the less calcium you require to obtain a neutral or positive calcium balance.
Intakes of 500mg are proving to be adequate for both men and women1. In fact a study of Buddhist vegan nuns showed that intakes as low as 330mg per day were sufficient to meet the needs of these women and to provide protection agains osteoporosis2.
There are many other studies like this and lots of literature that will help you burn away the fog of misinformation and propaganda brought to you by the agribusiness lobbyists. Dr. McDougall is a great place to start.
So I believe that aiming for 600mg per day is sufficient and is also the amount suggested by Dr. Greger.
So naturally, the question will turn to where can we obtain the best calcium sources for vegans as natural as possible? Here are the top choices of calcium for vegans that you may want to start including in your diet.
|Food||Calcium in mg|
|1 cup fortified plant milk like soy or rice milk||200 to 300|
|1 cup of cooked collard greens||360|
|2 tbsp blackstrap molasses||400|
|1/2 cup of tofu processed with calcium sulfate||200 to 300|
|1/2 cup tofu processed with nigari||80 to 200|
|1 cup cooked kale||180|
|2 tbsp tahini||130|
|1/4 cup almonds||90|
|1 cup cooked broccoli||60|
|1 cup baked beans||85|
|1 cup cooked okra||120|
The key takeaway however is that the less protein you consume – while still eating enough the less calcium you need to consume. Aim for around 600mg a day. That can be easily obtained by having a cup of soy milk with breakfast or over your cereal and enjoy a cup of soy milk as a snack.
Then be sure to eat lots of green leafy veggies and other green veggies and eat a whole food plant based diet with minimally processed foods. Limit your salt intake and you’ll likely be golden.
Calcium intake and bone health is also affected by vitamin D intake, magnesium intake as well as exercise. So there’s another reason to get out there and exercise in the sunshine when you can. Worst case and if you feel vulnerable you might include a vegan multi-vitamin like this one which will fill any gaps you feel might be present. Though always, first and foremost get your vitamins and minerals from foods.