Can I Get Enough Calcium On A Plant-Based Or Dairy-Free Diet?| Part 1

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Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body, making up a huge 1.5 to 2% of the total body weight. The bones and teeth are home to the majority of the body’s calcium, containing roughly 99% of it.

This mineral is not only responsible for helping to build and maintain strong bones and teeth, but also:

  • promoting heart health
  • contracting muscles
  • regulating the heartbeat
  • clotting the blood and
  • regulating the nervous system

Calcium can help relieve aching muscles and bones, maintain the correct acid-alkaline balance and reduce menstrual cramps. This mineral may even serve as a protector against high blood pressure, osteoporosis and colon cancer.

And so with all that in mind, I think we can all agree that calcium is a pretty incredible and important nutrient. Without it, we wouldn’t survive.

Many people are turning to a plant-based or dairy-free diet. Whether it’s due to ethical or dietary reasons, or out of necessity due to dairy or lactose intolerance, more people are cutting meat and dairy out of their diet. 
This has understandably caused many questions to arise about alternative sources of calcium. Especially after being conditioned for many years to believe that the best source of calcium comes from milk and dairy products.

The most common question that arises is often:

“Can I get enough calcium on a 100% plant-based or dairy-free diet?”

The resounding answer is, of course, YES!

That’s why I’ve put together these 2 blogs posts on getting enough calcium on a plant-based or dairy-free diet. Within these posts, I will delve into the commonly asked questions such as: 

“What are the best plant-based calcium sources?”
“How much calcium do I need?”
“Do I need to take calcium supplements?”
What are the signs of calcium deficiency?”

Check out part 2 here.
And so without further ado, let’s get to it….

calcium for healthy bones and teeth

How Much Calcium Do We Need?

The recommended intake (RDA) is 800 mg/day for children, adults and older people. This increases to 1200 mg for teenagers, pregnant and lactating women.

Really, you should be able to get all the calcium you need by eating a varied and balanced diet. However, if you do take calcium supplements, make sure to check whether any additional supplements you take also contain calcium. Also take your diet into consideration, as too much (more than 1,500mg a day) could be harmful. This may lead to stomach pain, diarrhoea or more serious issues like calcium oxalate kidney stones.

How Do Our Bodies Absorb Calcium?

Many people hear they need calcium and simply grab a supplement that says calcium on it. But it’s not only calcium that is important when it comes to bone health, or overall calcium absorption.
You also need vitamin D, C and K, along with minerals magnesium, boron, selenium, copper, zinc and phosphorus. These are essential to support good bone health and optimal absorption.
Together these enhance the way calcium is absorbed by the body and enables it to be effectively incorporated into the bones.

Signs of Calcium Deficiency

  • Muscle cramps or leg cramps
  • Tremors
  • Insomnia
  • Joint pain or arthritis
  • Tooth decay
  • High blood pressure
  • Osteomalacia (softening of the bone)
  • Osteopenia (a condition in which bone mineral density is lower than normal – often a precursor to osteoporosis.)
  • Osteoporosis (means “porous bone.” It is a bone disease that occurs when the body loses too much bone, makes too little bone, or both. As a result, bones become very fragile.)
  • Rickets (in children) which results in bone deformities and growth retardation.
plant-based calcium sources

Plant-based/Dairy-free Food Sources of Calcium

  • Dark Green Leafy Veg – kale, romaine, rocket and butterhead lettuce, mustard greens, collard greens, cabbage and broccoli, swiss chard, parsley, dandelion, nettle, watercress, chickweed and microgreens are edible green leaves.
  • Millet, oats, quinoa
  • Chickpeas (and many dried beans/legumes)
  • Sesame seeds and tahini (a paste made from ground sesame seeds), pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, sunflower seeds
  • Almonds, brazil nuts, walnuts
  • Seaweed and sea vegetables e.g kelp, dulse, nori
  • Dried figs, prunes, dates
  • Tofu

For those not avoiding fish or all types of dairy:

  • Sardines, tinned wild salmon with bones
  • Goat’s milk
  • Milk kefir

Plant-based sources of calcium are actually found to have a higher bioavailability (rate of absorbability) within the body than dairy. In fact, they’re often more superior choices.
This is partly due to the additional vitamins and minerals within the food, helping to improve the absorbability of the calcium content.

A note on dairy

Since the dairy products found on our supermarket shelves nowadays are pasteurised, homogenised and no longer raw, it actually reduces the calcium and overall vitamin content of the product. This makes it much harder for the body to digest and utilise. Not to mention the fact that our bodies can only absorb roughly 30% of the calcium content from pasteurised dairy.

If you’re intolerant to dairy from cows but want still wish to consume dairy, try goat’s milk or fermented dairy products like milk kefir.

Fermentation takes a pasteurised food (milk in this case) and turns it back into a living food teeming with good bacteria. It doesn’t exactly “reverse” the pasteurisation, but at least it does inject some life back into it. 
As it cultures at room temperature, the beneficial strains of bacteria and benign natural yeasts will proliferate and metabolise the milk’s lactose. In turn, this creates a sour, thick beverage with vitamins and probiotics. This will actually be far more easily digested, even for those who suffer from lactose intolerance.

Check out part two here.

Emily Nöth

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*Please note that while we are knowledgeable about our products and nutrition, this blog should never be a substitute for medical advice and attention

Please remember that you should always obtain the all-clear from your doctor before starting any new supplement plan or diet if you’re on any medication