Between getting stuck with a limp salad at many restaurants and dodging misguided questions about how they get enough protein, vegans have it rough sometimes.
Another topic that vegans are frequently berated over is calcium. As soon as vegans reveal that they choose not to consume dairy, many well-meaning friends immediately protest, “But how do you get enough calcium?”
This can be tricky to figure out at first. If you’re new to veganism, figuring out where all your nutrients will be coming from is something of an adjustment, but it’s neither impossible nor all that challenging. You just need to know where to look.
Calcium 101 – What’s the Big Deal?
We’ve all grown up hearing that we need to drink our milk to get the calcium we need to build strong bones. The US Department of Agriculture reinforces this belief and recommends that adults add three cups of dairy per day to their diet.
So, why the emphasis on calcium? Calcium is an essential mineral for several of the body’s functions. It bolsters bones and teeth, preventing breaks, fractures, and osteoarthritis. Additionally, calcium helps transmit nerve impulses, control muscles, and encourage blood clotting.
When your body fails to get enough from your diet, it starts pulling calcium reserves from your bones—making them weaker. But what about the vegans, the lactose-intolerant, and those who are allergic to dairy? Are they simply doomed to a lifetime of weak bones?
No one wants weak bones. When you become a vegan, whether by choice or due to allergies and dietary restrictions, you’ll need to figure out a few alternate sources of calcium.
To do this, it’s first helpful to know how much calcium you need. Most adults between 19 and 50 need about 1000mg of calcium per day. That might sound like a staggering number, but let’s put it in perspective. One cup of milk contains about 300 mg of calcium. That means that to reach your daily calcium goal, you would only need to consume a little over three cups of milk each day.
Unfortunately for vegans, while there are plenty of alternate sources of calcium out there, it’s difficult to find one that contains as much calcium as milk. By way of comparison, one cup of broccoli contains about 90 mg, as opposed to milk’s 300 mg.
Calcium supplements make it easier to fit in anything you might have missed—and work well if you feel like it’s hard to squeeze several servings of kale and broccoli into each and every meal.
The Vitamin D Factor
Vitamin D isn’t discussed as often as calcium, but it’s a vital piece of the equation. It’s what helps your body absorb calcium, and it helps your body maintain the proper calcium levels. Without vitamin D, you’re not getting the most out of your calcium. That’s why most supplements and fortified foods contain both nutrients.
It’s not as easy for vegans to get healthy amounts of vitamin D as it is for the rest of the population, but it’s still entirely possible. Some healthy, vegan sources of vitamin D include:
Perhaps the most straightforward — and cost-effective — source of vitamin D is the sun. Just getting 15 minutes of sunlight can help you get your daily value of the vitamin D. No food is even required.
Naturally, this works best during the summer months, but you’ll want to make sure you cover up before you burn or begin to turn red.
People that live in places with little sunlight may have trouble reaching the recommended daily value and might consider turning to food-based sources of vitamin D instead.
2. Fortified Foods
Like calcium, many of the best-known sources of vitamin D come from animal sources such as egg yolks, canned tuna, meat, and dairy.
As alternatives, look for fortified cereals and energy bars, orange juice and non-dairy milk for your daily vitamin D intake.
You can always make things easier with a supplement. Just be sure to read the packaging to ensure you’re getting a vegan product, as many supplements contain animal derivatives and aren’t classified as vegan.
Vegan Sources of Calcium
While still a challenge, calcium is easier to come by than its helpful partner, vitamin D. Here’s a look at some of the best vegan sources of calcium.
As a vegan, vegetables are most likely going to be your primary source of calcium. They’re a great way to get a lot of calcium without consuming a huge amount of calories. Greens, in particular, rule the calcium game. Here’s a quick rundown of all the best options:
- Collard Greens: These greens are the clear winner — a single cup of collard greens offers 350mg of calcium.
- Kale: 180mg per cup.
- Turnip Greens: Another good option, turnip greens provide 250mg per cup.
- Mustard Greens: Also a good option.
- Bok Choy: 150mg per cup
- Broccoli: 95mg per cup
- Artichokes: 55mg per medium artichoke
Tofu, tempeh, and edamame are just a few examples that would fall into this category. These soy-based foods make a pile of veggies into a meal and are protein-packed meat substitutes many vegans rely on. They are also good sources of calcium.
Tempeh brings 215 mg per cup, while soybeans contain 175mg for the same amount. Tofu brings about 200mg of calcium per serving. Silken tofu, on the other hand, provides only about 80mg per serving.
As another mainstay of the vegan diet, beans are good sources of calcium in addition to being plant-based sources of protein and fiber. Here’s a breakdown of calcium content per one-cup serving:
- Navy Beans: 126mg
- Pinto Beans: 80mg
- White Beans: 160mg
- Kidney Beans: 62mg
- Chickpeas: 80mg
- Lentils: 38mg
4. Blackstrap Molasses
This ingredient is the thick dark molasses that remains after all sugar has been extracted from raw sugar cane. A somewhat surprising source of calcium, blackstrap molasses packs 400mg of calcium into just two tablespoons. Interestingly enough, it may also reduce stress and improve the appearance of your skin.
It may be daunting to try to figure out how much you’ll need to take care of your calcium needs, but you can add some of this syrup to your oatmeal, or stir some into hot water and drink as a supplement.
5. Seeds and Nuts
Sesame seeds give you an awful lot of bang for your buck when it comes to calcium. A couple of tablespoons of sesame seeds offers 120mg of calcium, while almonds offer about 23mg per every 10g serving.
6. Non-Dairy Milks
When it comes to providing you with calcium, some non-dairy milks are better than others. Fortified hemp milk is extremely rich in calcium and contains a whopping 428g of calcium per cup. As a bonus, you’ll also get omega fatty acids, along with a few grams of protein per serving.
Fortified soy milk comes with similar benefits, as does rice milk. These non–dairy milks come in at 360mg and 300mg, respectively.
Oat milk and almond milk fall short of providing any meaningful amount of calcium per serving. Almonds themselves contain calcium, but lose this benefit during the processing procedure.
Most fruits are better for supplying you with vitamin C or vitamin A content, but there are some surprising sources of calcium lingering in the fruit basket.
- Black Currants: These can be a little hard to find, but if you happen to spot some in the market, 1 cup brings 62mg of calcium to the table.
- Figs: 1/2 a cup offers about 120mg.
- Blackberries: 40mg per cup.
- Oranges: One orange contains about 50-60mg.
8. Fortified Fruits
Non-dairy milks fortified with calcium are a good choice, but don’t discount the other types of fortified foods. Your favorite OJ brand most certainly comes in a fortified version, adding both calcium and vitamin D to your diet.
Fortified breakfast cereals might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but a bowl of cereal, floating in hemp milk will take care of a good chunk of your recommended calcium DV. Add a glass of fortified orange juice, and you’re just about there.
Sample Meal Ideas — Calcium Hacks for the Busy Vegan
Let’s put it all into practice. Many vegans are total pros in the kitchen, out of passion for plant-based cooking as well as necessity. But, if you’re newer to the game, here are some tips for incorporating calcium into your diet.
1. Add More Veggies
If you’re vegan, this should become second nature. Making up for the lack of meat means you have to add calories and substance from somewhere.
The easiest way to add calcium is to throw a few handfuls of a calcium-rich into whatever you’re already making. For example, if you’re making a basic pasta with red sauce, steam some broccoli to eat on the side, and throw some kale and collard greens into the mix.
2. Make a Smoothie
If bowls of cereal aren’t your thing, make a calcium-rich smoothie. Just a cup of your favorite vegan milk plus almond butter or silken tofu can provide the perfect one-and-done dose of calcium. Double down and stick some kale in the blender, top it off with some figs and your favorite berries and call it breakfast.
3. Stir-Fry Is Your Friend
Grab a loaf of calcium-fortified tofu to use as a base and add in as many veggies as you can fit into your wok. The beauty of stir-fry is that all you really need is an assortment of veggies, a good sauce and a base. If you need a little more direction, that’s okay, too.
Here’s a recipe to get you off to the right start. Before you know it, you’ll be swapping edamame for broccoli and adding your own spin to the sauce.
- 1 14-ounce package firm or extra-firm tofu
- 2 cups of chopped collard greens
- 1 cup of butternut squash, cooked and cubed
- 1 cup of kale, chopped
- 2 tablespoons of toasted sesame oil for sautéing
- 1/4 cup of coconut aminos or soy sauce
- 3 cloves of minced garlic
- 1 onion, chopped loosely
- 1 tablespoon of freshly grated ginger
- 2 tablespoons of maple syrup
- 2 tablespoons of finely diced jalapeño peppers
- Preheat the 400 degrees F. Then, remove tofu from packaging, rinse, drain and dry. It works best if you dry the tofu with two clean, cloth towels that’ll help soak up all the excess moisture without sticking to the cube, and stick something heavy like a large frying pan over the top for extra squeezing.
- After about 10-15 minutes, cut tofu and arrange on a greased baking sheet.
- Bake for 30 minutes, flipping once halfway through.
- When tofu is a light golden brown and a firm texture, remove from heat and set aside.
- Prep vegetables.
- In a mixing bowl, combine coconut aminos, ginger and maple syrup and whisk together.
- Set the sauce mixture aside while heating your skillet or wok to medium-high.
- Add the oil, onion, and garlic and sauté for about 2 minutes.
- Add the squash and cook in the garlic and oil for about 5 minutes, then add your greens and cook for another 3 minutes, stirring the entire time.
- When vegetables have softened, as desired, add the sauce. Stir, coating all vegetables and reduce the heat to low.
- Let the sauce thicken, and stir in the tofu. Cook for an additional 3 minutes and remove from heat.
Serve with rice, if desired.
Bulk Up Your Seed Game — Easy Calcium on a Vegan Diet
Sesame, almonds, hempseed — these are your best friends when it comes to getting a quick dose of calcium. Embrace meals topped with hummus or tahini sauce, and throw sesame seeds in any dish from vegetable stir-fry to avocado toast, fried tofu and anything else you can dream up.
For some nuts and seeds on the go, here’s some trail mix inspiration that’ll have you eating well even if you don’t quite have the time or mental energy to cook up a vegan feast.
Calcium-Centric Trail Mix Pack
Because you can play fast and loose with trail mix, here’s a recipe without measurements that you can feel free to tailor to your needs.
- Sesame Seeds
- Dried Apricot
- Sunflower Seeds
- Dried Cranberries
- Dried Blueberries
- In a small mixing bowl, mix hemp seeds and sesame seeds together.
- Cut figs into halves or quarters and add to the seed mixture.
- Roll fruit around until coated with seeds. You may need to press firmly so seeds stick to the figs.
- In a large bowl or container, add sunflower seeds, almonds, dried fruit and figs.
- Mix together and transfer to small Ziploc bags or an airtight storage container.
Of course, there’s always quick fixes like almond bread or tahini butter on toast, an almond-milk based smoothie with plenty of greens. You can even take vitamins if you like. There are no rules. What’s most important is that you get the calcium you need without compromising your lifestyle choices.
Between the figs and seeds, and greens on greens, there are plenty of calcium-rich foods at your disposal — and no animal products are required.
Going Vegan? Yalla Mediterranean Makes Dining Out a Breeze.
The next time someone asks how you can possibly get enough calcium on an all-plant diet, you’ve got plenty of foods to rattle off as a rebuttal. You never know, you just might inspire a friend to go vegan for the day.
Whether you’re just starting your vegan journey, or are a long time animal-free eater, Yalla has plenty of options for takeout and delivery for busy weekday dining or catering options for big gatherings. Vegans, vegetarians, the gluten and dairy-free — everyone deserves to have access to healthy, convenient food made by people who understand specialized diets.
If you’re looking for a healthy bite in California, come on in to one of our locations in Northern CA and SoCal.