If you’re vegan, plant-based, or simply curious, you might face this question: Where do you get calcium from on a vegan diet? The risks of inadequate calcium intake include osteopenia, osteoporosis, bone fractures, and even rickets. Although this question may seem trivial to some vegans, it’s important to consider where your friends, relatives, or strangers are coming from. After all, growing up with Got Milk? commercials led many of us to believe dairy was perhaps the only source of calcium. Therefore, if you are vegan or plant-based it’s important to not only educate yourself for health reasons, but also to provide an honest and thoughtful answer to those who are sincerely interested.
The recommend intake of calcium for adults aged 19-50 years old is 1,000 milligrams (mg) per day. Serum lab values of calcium are not necessarily a good indicator of dietary intake. Therefore, in school we were taught to focus more on dietary recall and using the Rule of 300, a simple way to count daily calcium intake. Unfortunately, the Rule of 300 is primarily for those who consume dairy (with the exception of fortified orange juice) because one serving of cheese, yogurt, milk, and orange juice contains roughly 300 mg of calcium. [For those who consume dairy… simply add up the number of servings you eat of dairy per day, multiply by 300 and then add 300 if you eat a well-balanced diet. The final number is approximately how many mg of calcium you consume per day.]
Without fortified foods or supplements, vegans tend to have low intakes of calcium. When considering plant sources of calcium choose those with a low oxalate content. This is because calcium from plants with a low oxalate content is absorbed more efficiently, opposed to those with a high oxalate content. Sources include dark leafy greens, such as kale, bok choy, collard greens, turnip and mustard greens. Other options include calcium set tofu and fortified plant-milks. Plant sources with a high oxalate content, such as spinach, swiss chard, and beet greens are not necessarily recommended because the high oxalate content essentially takes over, or binds, to the calcium and prevents proper absorption in the digestive tract. Other plant foods with moderate absorption of calcium include white beans, almonds, tahini, figs, and oranges. If you’re vegan (or not vegan!) it’s important to consider your calcium sources, and if necessary speak with a registered dietitian about a low dose calcium supplement.
Melina V, Craig W, Levin S. Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Vegetarian Diets. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 2016;116(12):1970-1980. doi:10.1016/j.jand.2016.09.025.
Calcium Part 1-Basics 2. Vegan Health | Evidence-Based Nutrient Recommendations. https://veganhealth.org/calcium-part-1/#vegans-calcium-intake. Accessed February 23, 2019.
Office of Dietary Supplements - Calcium. NIH Office of Dietary Supplements. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Calcium-HealthProfessional/. Accessed February 23, 2019.