By Florencia Tagliavini, The NutraMilk Nutritionist
Calcium, as everyone has consistently heard, is key for growing and maintaining healthy bones. But it also has many other vital functions - It's necessary for transmitting nerve impulses, for muscles to contract, for dilating and constricting blood vessels and secreting hormones.
If you don't consume enough calcium, you won´t see any obvious signs for a long time, as your body will take the calcium you have stored in your bones over the years and will use it for all the vital bodily functions, such as muscle contractions and nerve impulses. But, over time your bones become debilitated and that´s when perhaps at age 40 or 50, you find out you have osteoporosis or fracture a bone from a silly fall.
On the contrary, too much calcium can have negative effects as well, it can lead to kidney stone formation in susceptible people and possibly put you at more of a risk for heart attacks, at least that´s what some studies have shown in older women. More is not better, so you should be cautious when consuming supplements.
Youth + Calcium
Youth and young adulthood is the period when bones build up to their peak strength. After this, you stop growing your bone structure and the calcium you consume is necessary for maintaining strong bones instead of building or growing. Getting enough calcium especially during this period is crucial as it will determine your maximum bone density for the rest of your life.
In order to absorb calcium, you also need the help of vitamin D, so this vitamin is just as important. The best source by far of vitamin D is the sun. It´s not always possible to get your vitamin D from the sun, especially in winter, as you have to make sure a good part of your bare skin is exposed daily for about 10-15 minutes. You may also get vitamin D from a few foods such as fish, dairy milk, soymilk or fortified plant-based milks and foods.
Exercise is another key factor in building and maintaining strong bones through adulthood, another reason to stay active!
How Much Calcium Do You Need?
- 1200 mg/day for Adolescents
- 1000 mg/day for Adult Men (19-70 years)
- 1000 mg/day for Adult Women (19-50 years)
- 1200 mg/day for Adult Women (51+ years)
- 1200 mg/day for Adult Men (71+ years)
It's not important that you get exactly 1000 mg of calcium every day. If it's averaging out to your recommended intake, you're probably getting all the calcium you need. The prestigious Harvard School of Public Health, states that it's not clear that we need as much calcium as is generally recommended, and it's also not clear that dairy products are really the best source of calcium for most people. As more studies come out, the amount of calcium recommended could be adjusted but if you can consume the current recommended amount you are in good shape.
Sources of CalciumLeafy Green Vegetables
- Kale, Swiss chard as well as broccoli, bok choy, mustard, and turnip greens are good sources of absorbable calcium.
- Spinach contains a lot of calcium but also contains a lot of oxalates which inhibit the absorption of calcium, so it's not a great source.
- Leafy greens are also a good source of folate and vitamin K which are also involved in helping build strong bones.
Image by animalsaustralia.org
- Great source of calcium and also protein which helps absorb calcium.
- A half cup of firm tofu can provide about one third of the daily recommended intake of calcium.
- Orange juice and plant-based milks are fortified with calcium and vitamin D to match the content of dairy milk.
- When making plant-based milks with the NutraMilk you can choose to fortify yourself with calcium and vitamin D supplements if you like.
- Nuts, seeds, grains, beans and vegetables help contribute to your overall intake.
|Breakfast||1 cup of fortified OJ (35% DV*), 2 toasts with almond butter (9% DV) plus any topping.|
|Lunch||1 cup of sauteed collard greens (27% DV), 1 Tbsp of sesame seeds (9% DV) and 1 cup of cooked quinoa (3% DV).|
|Snack||5 figs (9% DV)|
|Dinner||1/2 cup of baked beans (8% DV) with rice and raw kale salad - 1 cup (5% DV).|
This plant-based menu gets you all the recommended daily calcium you need and more 105% of the daily recommended intake from plant-based sources.
Calcium Food Sources
*%DV: Percent Daily Value (DV) references how much a certain nutrient contributes in one serving of food in relation to the daily requirement.
There are many resources that makes it easier to learn about plant-based diets.
Here are a few resources I recommend that will help you dig deeper into the subject of plant-based calcium sources:
- The Vegetarian Resource Group is a well-respected resource for anything vegetarian. You can read about many topics. Here are two links about calcium: Veganism in a Nutshell and Calcium in a Vegan Diet.
- Gena from "The Full Helping" has written a great article and made it easier for you by detailing food combinations that have a good amount of calcium: 15 Calcium Rich Vegan Food Combinations.
- Harvard School of Public health has researched this topic extensively. Check out these articles: Calcium: What´s Best for your Bones and Health and 5 Quick Tips: Building Strong Bones.
- Ginny Kischm´s blog - The Vegan RD - it's full of evidenced-based information that puts myths to rest about what it takes to have healthy bones: Vegan Diets for Healthy Bones.
- The Ascension Kitchen - Calcium on a Plant-Based Diet
- Connie M Weaver, William R Proulx, Robert Heaney; Choices for achieving adequate dietary calcium with a vegetarian diet, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 70, Issue 3, 1 September 1999, Pages 543s-548s.
- U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 24. 2011.
- Feskanich D, Willett WC, Stampfer MJ, Colditz GA. Milk, dietary calcium, and bone fractures in women: a 12-year prospective study. Am J Public Health. 1997; 87:992-97.
- Reinagel, M. Osteoporosis Prevention Through The Lifespan: Challenges And Opportunities To Build Or Maintain Strong Bones. Food & Nutrition Magazine. 2016, May/June: 16-17.
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Calcium: What's Best for Your Bones and Health? The Nutrition Source.