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Dr. Barnard Discusses Calcium and Strong Bones: How to Get Enough Calcium on a Vegan Diet

How can we get enough calcium on a vegan diet?  Learn about plant-based sources of calcium that are easily absorbed. 

Thanks to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine for sharing this information about calcium and a vegan diet. For more information about health topics related to a plant-based diet, visit their website.

How to Get Calcium into Your Bones

1. Get calcium from greens, beans, or fortified foods.

The most healthful calcium sources are green leafy vegetables and legumes, or “greens and beans” for short. Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, collard greens, kale, mustard greens, Swiss chard, and other greens are loaded with highly absorbable calcium and a host of other healthful nutrients. The exception is spinach, which contains a large amount of calcium but tends to hold onto it very tenaciously, so that you will absorb less of it.

Beans are humble foods, and you might not know that they are loaded with calcium. There is more than 100 milligrams of calcium in a plate of baked beans. If you prefer chickpeas, tofu, or other bean or bean products, you will find plenty of calcium there, as well. These foods also contain magnesium, which your body uses along with calcium to build bones.

If you are looking for a very concentrated plant-based calcium source, calcium-fortified orange or apple juices contain 300 milligrams or more of calcium per cup in a highly absorbable form. Many people prefer calcium supplements, which are now widely available.

2. Exercise, so calcium has somewhere to go.

Exercise is important for many reasons, including keeping bones strong. Active people tend to keep calcium in their bones, while sedentary people lose calcium.

3. Get vitamin D from the sun, or supplements if you need them.

Vitamin D controls your body’s use of calcium. About 15 minutes of sunlight on your skin each day normally produces all the vitamin D you need. If you get little or no sun exposure, you can get vitamin D from any multiple vitamin. The Recommended Dietary Allowance is 600 IU (5 micrograms) per day. Vitamin D is often added to milk, but the amount added is not always well controlled.

How to Keep It There

It’s not enough to get calcium into your bones. What is really critical is keeping it there. Here’s how:

1. Reduce calcium losses by avoiding excess salt.

Calcium in bones tends to dissolve into the bloodstream, then pass through the kidneys into the urine. Sodium (salt) in the foods you eat can greatly increase calcium loss through the kidneys.1 If you reduce your sodium intake to one to two grams per day, you will hold onto calcium better. To do that, avoid salty snack foods and canned goods with added sodium, and keep salt use low on the stove and at the table.

2. Get your protein from plants.

Animal protein—in fish, poultry, red meat, eggs, and dairy products—tends to leach calcium from the bones and encourages its passage into the urine. Plant protein—in beans, grains, and vegetables—does not appear to have this effect.2

3. Don’t smoke.

Smokers lose calcium, too. A study of identical twins showed that, if one twin had been a long-term smoker and the other had not, the smoker had more than a 40 percent higher risk of a fracture.3

Plant-based Calcium Chart: Learn Which Plant-based Foods contain Calcium

Calcium and Magnesium in Foods (milligrams)

Food Source

Calcium

Magnesium

Collards (1 cup, boiled)

358

52

Orange juice, calcium-fortified (1 cup)

350*

Oatmeal, instant (2 packets)

326

70

Figs, dried (10 medium)

269

111

Tofu, calcium-set (1/2 cup)

258

118

Spinach (1 cup, boiled)

244

158

Soybeans (1 cup, boiled)

175

148

White beans (1 cup, boiled)

161

113

Mustard greens (1 cup, boiled)

150

20

Navy beans (1 cup, boiled)

128

107

Vegetarian baked beans (1 cup)

128

82

Great northern beans (1 cup, boiled)

121

88

Black turtle beans (1 cup, boiled)

103

91

Swiss chard (1 cup, boiled)

102

152

Broccoli (1 cup, boiled)

94

38

Kale (1 cup boiled)

94

24

English muffin

92

11

Butternut squash (1 cup, boiled)

84

60

Pinto beans (1 cup, boiled)

82

95

Chick peas (1 cup, canned)

80

78

Sweet potato (1 cup, boiled)

70

32

Green beans (1 cup, boiled)

58

32

Barley (1 cup)

57

158

Brussels sprouts (8 sprouts)

56

32

Navel orange (1 medium)

56

15

Raisins (2/3 cup)

53

35

Source: J.A.T. Pennington, Bowes and Church’s Food Values of Portions Commonly Used. (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, 1994.)

*Information from manufacturer

Source: J.A.T. Pennington, Bowes and Church’s Food Values of Portions Commonly Used. (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, 1994.)

*Information from manufacturer

References

  1. Nordin BEC, Need AG, Morris HA, Horowitz M. The nature and significance of the relationship between urinary sodium and urinary calcium in women.J Nutr. 1993;123:1615-1622.
  2. Remer T, Manz F. Estimation of the renal net acid excretion by adults consuming diets containing variable amounts of protein. Am J ClinNutr. 1994;59:1356-1361.
  3. Hopper JL, Seeman E. The bone density of female twins discordant for tobacco use. N Engl J Med. 1994;330:387-392.

This site does not provide medical or legal advice. This Web site is for informational purposes only.

 

Thanks again to Dr. Neal Barnard and PCRM for sharing this information with the Yummy Plants community! For more information about vegan health topics, visit Dr. Neal Barnard’s blog.

One Response to “Dr. Barnard Discusses Calcium and Strong Bones: How to Get Enough Calcium on a Vegan Diet”

  1. Ivana Fordon says:

    So much more interesting than the grilled cheese and tomato soup I have planned for dinner tonight. Fennel pollen, now that is something I have never seen!

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