When you think of calcium (which is important for strong bones as well as a number of vital bodily functions), odds are that you think of milk and dairy foods. Those are great sources of calcium, but they aren’t the only ones. With increased interest in plant-based diets — including vegan diets — there’s a corresponding interest in learning which non-dairy foods can provide adequate amounts of calcium.
A large body of research supports the health benefits of plant-based diets, but there are a few nutrients, including calcium, iron and vitamin B-12, that are more challenging to get enough of in vegan diets, which don’t include animal-based foods. One large 2003 study of meat eaters, dairy-consuming vegetarians, and vegans in the United Kingdom found that vegans had the lowest intakes of calcium as well as vitamin D, which is also important for bone health. However, a similar 2013 study among Seventh-Day Adventists in the U.S. and Canada found no difference in calcium intake, although vegans had lower intake of vitamin D.
The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of calcium is 1,000 milligrams (mg) per day for women ages 19 to 50 and men ages 19 to 70, and 1,200 mg for women ages 51 and older and men ages 71 and older. The good news is that many non-dairy foods — including vegetables, beans, nuts and seeds — can contribute to your daily calcium needs. To ensure that you get enough calcium, aim to meet most of your daily needs with foods from this list, knowing that the rest of your diet will provide additional, smaller amounts of calcium.
Some non-dairy calcium sources to consider:
• 1/2 cup firm tofu (prepared with calcium sulfate)
• 1/2 cup firm tofu (prepared with nigari)
• 3 ounces canned sardines with bones
• 1 cup chopped cooked collard greens
• 1 cup orange juice, calcium-fortified
• 1 cup calcium-fortified rice, soy, almond or oat milk
• 3 ounces canned salmon with bones
• 1 cup chopped cooked turnip greens
• 1 cup canned white beans
• 1 cup cooked kale
• 1 cup cooked shredded bok choy
• 10 dried figs
• 2 tablespoons almond butter
• 2 cups raw kale
• 1 cup cooked frozen edamame
• 1/4 cup almonds
• 1 tablespoon sesame seeds
• 1 cup canned black beans
• 1 cup chopped cooked broccoli
• 1 navel orange
Carrie Dennett, M.P.H., R.D.N. For more information, visit www.environmentalnutrition.com.