Calcium is one of the most important and abundant minerals in the body, making up 1-2% of a healthy adult’s body weight. The vast majority (99% to be exact) of all this calcium is stored in our bones and teeth where it is needed for the proper functioning of our bones and muscles. Calcium is also essential for healthy hormone balance, maintaining a regular heartbeat and for blood clotting.
When we don’t get enough calcium and circulating calcium gets low, the body releases stored calcium from our bones as it needs. Over time this means weakened bones and bone loss, which eventually can result in osteoporosis. In children a deficiency of calcium can cause softened and deform bones – a condition called rickets. Therefore getting enough calcium is important for everyone, regardless of age.
Why plants are better than dairy…
Despite the fact that the dairy industry has done an outstanding job marketing dairy products as the very best way to get dairy, many plant foods contain more calcium per gram than dairy products do! The other issue with dairy is that many people react badly to dairy – sometimes without even realising. Digestive issues, such as bloating, gas, cramping, headaches and skin issues, can all be signs that you’re not digesting and tolerating dairy very well. Symptoms appear when the body can’t digest the lactose found in dairy properly because of a lack of the enzyme (lactase) required for proper digestion. This is common and is called lactose intolerance – which is different to an allergy and also a bit harder to diagnose. Research actually point out that lactose intolerance is present in up to 15% of northern Europeans, 80% of blacks and Latinos, and up to 100% of American Indians and Asians (source). Therefore, relying solely on dairy products to get your calcium isn’t a great idea and anyone who reacts badly to dairy shouldn’t compromise their wellbeing thinking that dairy is the best and only way to get calcium – because it isn’t.
Aside from being good sources of calcium, plant foods also come with the added benefit of other bone building nutrients – such as magnesium, potassium and vitamin C + K, all of which work synergistically to support healthy bones. So if you’re one of the many people who don’t tolerate dairy products too well, or if you’re allergic or simply trying to cut down on the amount of dairy you consume, this post is for you! And it will highlight some great plant based calcium rich foods that will help ensure you get enough.
How much do we need?
Calcium requirements are dependent upon age. The recommended daily intake (RDI) for adults (age 19-50) is currently 700 mg in the UK and 1000 mg in the US. That number increases for females over 51, males over age 71 and for pregnant and nursing women.
Below is a list of 10 super nutritious plant foods that are naturally high in calcium and other bone building nutrients that help boost and maintain healthy bones.
How to eat for healthy bones…
- 2 tablespoons of almond butter contains 100 mg of calcium. It’s also a great source of magnesium, copper, zinc and iron. Make your own almond butter for a fraction of the price or try a chocolate version.
- An ounce (28 gm) of sesame seeds contains 280 mg, or 40% of your RDI. Sesame seeds are also a fantastic source of manganese and copper, as well as several other vitamins and minerals. Sprinkle the seeds on top of salads, add them to baked goods or use in stir fries. Sesame seed paste, or tahini, can be used in hummus, dips, salad dressings. Try my hemp tahini salad dressing, which is simple + delicious.
- Hemp milk is a great alternative to dairy milk, particularly for those who may also be allergic to nuts or soy. A standard cup provides around 42% of your daily need, which is very similar to the calcium found in dairy milk. It also contains all 10 essential amino acids, making it a complete protein source. Hemp milk also contains Omega-3′s, iron and potassium, as well as Vitamins A, D, E and B12. It is eco-friendly because it requires little water and no pesticides to grow. Hemp milk’s nutty flavor is great when enjoyed on its own or added to smoothies or oatmeal.
- Many leafy greens are fantastic sources of plant based calcium. Collard greens, turnip greens, spinach and kale are particularly good sources, with a single cup of cooked kale holding close to 14% of your daily calcium. Add leafy greens to your smoothies, soups and stews or enjoy them raw in salads. Try this amazing kale salad.
- Two tablespoons of chia seeds provides all of 25% of your RDI. Chia seeds are also the richest plant-based source of omega-3 fatty acids, ounce for ounce containing more than salmon. They also contain magnesium and boron, trace minerals that aid in the body’s absorption of calcium. They’re easy to use for breakfast, dessert or a quick snack. Try my chia crackers, chia buckwheat pizza, or this chia + raspberry pudding.
- 1 cup of dried figs provide 34% of your daily calcium. Add them to your muesli, muffins or enjoy them on their own as a sweet snack.
- Orange + kiwi fruits also contain calcium and a just 1 orange or 2 kiwi fruits pack close to 10% of your recommended daily intake.
- Flaxseeds are also a great source of plat based calcium with 214 mg or 31% of your RDI in just 1/2 cup. Add flaxseeds to your porridge, yogurt and other baked goods or try these delicious flax crackers.
- A single tablespoon of cinnamon provides 11% of your RDI of calcium! Add it to your porridge, muffins, smoothies and yogurt for the added benefit of calcium. More about all the health benefits of cinnamon here.
- A head of broccoli packs all of 38% of your daily calcium. Though most of us won’t devour an entire head of broccoli in one sitting, broccoli soup easily packs an entire head. For a gorgeous salad, try my broccoli salad with cashew dressing, which is one of my favourite ways to have broccoli.
Aside from eating plenty of plant based foods, exercise and adequate vitamin D are also essential for healthy bones. Getting outside and engaging in some form of exercise everyday is not only great for your bones, but also help boost your mood and reduce stress levels.
Note: All percentages are based on UK RDA of 700 mg calcium.