Getting Sufficient Calcium Without Diary | A Guide for Vegans

There are several ways to get calcium other than milk. This is essentially a piece of good news for those who are concerned with how to get calcium without dairy for several reasons ranging from health issues to diet choices. You can not avoid calcium at any cost! While generally, one may think calcium is merely important for bones and teeth, there is more to it. 

Getting calcium without dairy is important for vegans and those who are intolerant to lactose. Especially if you are switching to a vegan diet, foods that are rich in calcium may miss your attention. Rest assured that there are many plant-based sources of calcium, which collectively form the best way to get calcium without dairy products.

This article is all about connecting you to the basics of this powerful micronutrient and guide your way to getting calcium without milk. Let’s get started!

What is Calcium and Why Do We Need It?

how to get calcium without dairy

Calcium is an important micronutrient that the human body needs. Our bones and teeth are largely made of calcium and they could become vulnerable to depletion if the body is not perennially supplied with the necessary amount of calcium every day. 

Not only does calcium help in maintaining strong bones and teeth, but there is also a need for calcium in maintaining healthy cranial function by fostering the communication between the human brain and the various parts of our body. Calcium also plays a central role in muscle contraction and movement. The body pumps out calcium to help the muscle contract. As we talk of muscle, the muscles of the heart also need calcium for maintaining a healthy function in pumping blood across the body. Studies have shown the relation of calcium to healthy blood pressure. Nevertheless, calcium is also a key player in helping our blood clot post an injury, saving us from losing excess blood when hurt.

Calcium is a co-enzyme that facilitates the function of other enzymes in our body. A healthy supply of this micronutrient to the body can decrease any associated risks of colorectal adenomas, which is a type of non-cancerous tumor.

Is Dairy Really the Only Source of Calcium? 

Is Dairy Really the Only Source of Calcium

No, milk or dairy products are not the single champions for providing calcium in our diet. Though not uncontested, dairy is one of the chief sources of calcium for two primary reasons, that is the concentration of calcium in it and the bioavailability of it which facilitates easy absorption. Milk definitely takes a lot of load off the head when it comes to balancing absorption and obtaining the recommended daily intake of calcium in merely three servings. Dairy contributes to a major source of calcium in the global diet. In North America, about one-third of the calcium obtained via diet is through dairy.

However, not everyone relies on milk for calcium. The reason could range from lactose intolerance, a vegan dietary choice to taste preference. Veganism abides by the ethic to abstain from animal products to foster a sustainable relationship between animal species and human civilization. If you are turning animal friendly and want to avoid milk, go for it without the fear of a deficiency of calcium because apart from dairy there are multiple plant-based sources of it too!

Dietary Calcium in Diary and Its Bioavailability 

You might run misguided on your way to obtain the daily recommended amounts of calcium if you are not aware of calcium’s bioavailability. To give you a basic understanding, let’s clarify that not all the nutrients that we consume are absorbed by the body or utilized wholly. Several factors including the pH of the digestive tract and the presence of other foods can create a disparity between the portion of calcium ingested and that which is ingested.

Bioavailability, also called fractional absorption, is the fraction of calcium in milk that is absorbed by the body. In dairy products, the fractional absorption is as high as 30 percent. So is there something that alters the bioavailability of calcium in other food items? Yes, the oxalates and phytates that are present in a number of plant food items, reduce the bioavailability of calcium in it. The presence of high oxalate content in spinach reduces the fractional absorption of calcium to 5% which makes it a poor source of calcium despite having high amounts of calcium nutrient in it.

What is the Daily Recommended Intake for Calcium? 

Daily Recommended Intake for Calcium

Calcium is reserved abundantly in the human body. It is crucial for the health of our bones, muscular function, cardiovascular health, and even skin. As per the Office of Dietary supplements, the recommended daily intake of calcium varies across gender and age groups. A tabulation of the appropriate calcium needs across the age groups are as follows:

  • 0– 6 months: 200 milligrams (mg)
  • 7– 12 months: 260 mg
  • 1– 3 years: 700 mg
  • 4– 8 years: 1,000 mg
  • 9– 18 years: 1,300 mg
  • 19– 50 years: 1,000 mg
  • 51– 70 years: 1,000 mg for males and 1,200 mg for females
  • 71 years and above: 1,200 mg
  • For Pregnant and breastfeeding women: 1,000–1,300 mg depending on age.

However, specific health conditions can demand a rise in intake. For women having started on their menopause or experiencing anorexia nervosa may need more calcium than a general RDI. Athletes and trainees under high physical exercise need to be on a surplus of calcium. Since the bioavailability and absorption of calcium play such a crucial role, it is important for vegans and lactose-intolerant people to include an extra source of calcium for mitigating any chances of a deficit.

How to Get Enough Calcium Without Dairy

How to Get Enough Calcium Without Dairy

Below are the Food Alternatives for Vegans and those with Lactose Intolerance:

1. Fortified Soy Milk 

Fortification refers to infusing micronutrients into food items for increasing their nutrient content. Generally, the vitamins and minerals that do not occur naturally in the base food are added to them for uplifting the values and helping the consumer get the RDI of all the fortified micronutrients through one food.

Plant milk, such as soy milk can be fortified with calcium to help you get a healthy supply of calcium through a vegan dairy milk alternative. One cup of fortified soy milk can provide up to 30 percent of RDI for calcium, making it as valuable as non-vegan milk. In addition to the fortified food, try to get decent amounts of Vitamin D, K, and magnesium to help in absorbing calcium efficiently.

2. Other Soy Foods

Soybean is a great vegan source of calcium. The immature soybeans, also called edamame are richer in calcium than a cup of cooked soybean. Food prepared out of soybeans, such as tempeh, natto, and tofu are also decently potent to provide for the mineral. Tofu made of calcium phosphate has about 350mg of Calcium in 100 grams serving. 

Similarly, tempeh and natto prepared from fermented soybeans can serve up to 11% and 20% of the RDI per 100 grams of serving respectively. Minimally processed soy foods are also a great source of plant protein. 

3. Dark Leafy Greens

Bitter and dark leafy greens are potent sources of calcium. Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cauliflowers too are rich in the mineral. 

You would be surprised to know that bok choy, spinach, mustard, turnip, and collard greens can serve up to 142 mg of Calcium per cooked 95 grams, depending on the variety. Well-cooked okra, cabbage, broccoli, kale, and Brussels sprouts are also reliable vegetable sources of the mineral which can provide you with 3-6% of the RDI per 80 grams.

However, they also contain oxalates which act as antinutrients to calcium absorption. Therefore make sure you cook them, boiling not baking, to reduce the oxalate levels. 

4. Nuts and Seeds 

Nuts, especially almonds are rich in calcium and so are certain seeds. You can expect a decent content of  97 mg calcium per 35 grams of roasted almonds to meet about 10% of the RDI. Brazil nuts run second to almonds by giving about 6% of the RDI per 35 grams of serving.  Other nuts on the list include walnuts, hazelnuts, pistachios, and macadamia which serve 2–3% of the RDI per 35 grams. Tahini sauce made from sesame seeds can supply 130mg of calcium per 30 ml which is approximately 13% of the RDI. Chia and flax seeds give around 5–6% of the RDI per 20–25 grams.

5. Whole Wheat Bread

Whole wheat bread could miraculously impact your daily calcium intake. General whole wheat bread contains close to 15 mg of calcium per 100 grams. However,  those prepared commercially can supply the consumer with about 130 mg of calcium per 100g serving. 

The calcium content in a variety of Whole wheat bread is as follows:

  • Commercially made Whole Wheat Bread, toasted: 130mg (13% RDA)
  • Commercially made Whole Wheat Bread, regular: 107mg (11% RDA)
  • Homemade or recipe made Whole Wheat Bread, toasted: 36mg (4% RDA)

This exemplifies that commercially prepared and toasted whole wheat bread may have 5 mg more calcium content than milk. 

Summary 

Though dairy is one of the most reliable sources of calcium, there are plenty of plant sources too that can compensate for the lack of milk or dairy in your diet. In this article, we explored the necessity of calcium. It is clear that our body’s requirement for calcium changes with time and age and how specific health conditions may require you to eat more calcium per day than the standard RDI. Passing through the concept of bioavailability, we navigated the ways through finding a vegan source of calcium. 

Hopefully, the article was informative and you enjoyed reading it. If we were able to clear your concerns, consider sharing this insightful piece with your vegan or lactose intolerant friends who might be struggling to figure things out for themselves!

Tully Zander

My life literally revolves around optimum health and sustainable living by being a devotional vegan. My mission is to create a community of like minded vegans to go forth in creating a better and brighter world for humans, animals and the planet. Just like Gandhi once said: “The greatness of a nation and it’s moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” – Gandhi

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