How to get enough calcium when you’re vegan or dairy-free


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Growing up, there was really only one face of calcium—and that was typically that of your favorite celebrity wearing a frothy white mustache with a “got milk?” slogan plastered across the ad. While milk and other dairy products are still the most well-known sources of the mineral, they’re certainly not the only—or the best (gasp!)—options.

What exactly is calcium?

But first, why exactly do you need it in the first place? Calcium plays a lot of important roles in your body that go far beyond keeping your bones strong. According to Harvard University, the mineral keeps your teeth looking top-notch, helps your blood clot, is responsible for the transmission of nerve impulses, and even regulates the rhythm of your heart. While the majority of the mineral is stored in your bones and teeth—99 percent, to be exact—that other one percent can be found in your blood and other tissues in the body.

Eating the proper amount of calcium every day is pretty important. According to the National Institutes of Health, adults ages 19 to 50 need 1,000 milligrams a day to keep the body functioning properly and reduce the risk of osteoporosis, a condition that makes your bones weak and brittle. The type you take in is crucial too: While milk is a quick and easy way to get enough calcium, it’s not necessarily the most health-conscious choice—even for preventing osteoporosis: “The dairy industry would like you to believe that osteoporosis is a dairy-deficiency disease. But if you’re eating a rich vegetarian-based diet, you’re going to get a lot of calcium,” says Susan Blum, MD. In fact, one 12-year-long study of 78,000 women found those who drank the most milk actually had more broken bones than those who rarely drank it.

The best sources of vegan calcium

There are plenty of other healthy sources besides milk that will make reaching the recommended daily calcium intake a cinch. And the best part? All of them are also full of other important vitamins and minerals that will help you check even more nutrition must-haves off your list. Considering there’s 305 milligrams of calcium in one cup of 1 percent milk (and more than double that in the same amount of tofu), these stats are seriously impressive.

1. Tofu

Just one cup of tofu contains 870 milligrams of calcium—and the absorption rate is essentially the same of that as milk. Plus, you also get the addition of 20 grams of protein per cup, too.

2. White beans

If you love adding beans to your meals, you’re in luck. Navy beans in particular are a great source of hearty calcium at 306 milligrams per cup raw or 126 milligrams per cup boiled. Black beans are also a good pick at 294 mg per cup raw or 102 milligrams per cup boiled.

3. Collard greens

Love your collard greens? Start making them on the regular. One cup of chopped and boiled collards comes in at 268 mg of calcium, while a cup of raw collards comes in at 84 milligrams.

4. Kale

Whether you’re piling it into your smoothie, baking it, or eating it in a salad, kale is always a good calcium source. One cup of the raw green is 101 milligrams while a cup of it cooked is 94 milligrams.

5. Almonds

As if you needed another reason to snack on protein-packed almonds, here you go: One cup of whole almonds contains 378 milligrams of calcium. And you can get plenty of the mineral from almond butter, too: There’s 56 milligrams per tablespoon and 870 milligrams per cup. There’s also 250 milligrams per cup of unsweetened almond milk.

6. Tempeh

While tofu is a stellar source, tempeh—which is made of soy—is a top-notch pick, too, at 184 milligrams of calcium per cup.

7. Chinese cabbage

So many greens are loaded with calcium, including Chinese cabbage. One shredded cup contains 158 milligrams when it’s boiled, while one shredded cup is 74 milligrams when it’s raw.

8. Sesame seeds

If you love topping your meals with sesame seeds, keep it up: Just one tablespoon contains 88 milligrams of calcium. And one tablespoon of tahini—which is made from toasted ground hulled sesame—contains 64 milligrams.

9. Figs

Just one serving of figs has 22 milligrams of calcium. So don’t be afraid to enjoy an entire handful.

10. Oranges

If you start your day with an orange, you’ll be taking in 50 milligrams of calcium. Plus, you can always grab some calcium-fortified orange juice to take in even more of the mineral.

11. Soy milk

Like orange juice, most soy milks are fortified with calcium, amping up the amount you get from those soybeans. One serving of Silk’s products, for instance, puts you right at 30 percent of your daily value—exactly what you’d be getting with the same amount of 2 percent dairy milk.

12. Okra

Okra—also called ladies’ fingers—keeps popping up more and more, and that’s great for your health: the veggie contains 124 milligrams of calcium per cup of boiled slices.

13. Rhubarb

Remember those rhubarb pies your grandma always used to make? Well, it’s time to bring the veggie back into your life. One diced cup contains 105 milligrams of calcium.

Calcium-loaded meal options to get your fix

Sure, you know which plants are filled with calcium—but now how do you go about adding them into your everyday meals to make sure you’re getting enough of the mineral? Start with these delicious and healthy recipes.

Photo: Minimalist Baker

1. Smoky tempeh burrito bowl

This burrito bowl from Minimalist Baker is loaded with two prime calcium sources: tempeh and black beans. Plus, it’s a nutritious way to get your Mexican food fix.

Photo: From My Bowl

2. Cacao and fig bliss balls

The next time you’re in need of a treat, reach for one of From My Bowl‘s cacao and fig bliss balls. You’ll score some calcium from the figs, plus you’ll have something yummy to snack on.

Photo: Rabbit and Wolves

3. Vegan cashew tofu

Who needs Chinese takeout when you can make a healthier version at home? This recipe from Rabbit and Wolves is loaded with tofu, so you get your calcium and protein fix with every delicious bite.

Photo: Simple Veganista

4. Strawberry and rhubarb crisp

Whether you want to eat this healthy strawberry and rhubarb crisp from Simple Veganista for breakfast or for dessert, you’ll take in plenty of calcium from all those chopped-up stalks.

Photo: Nutrition Stripped

5. Kale Caesar salad with maple pepper tempeh

Who doesn’t love a Caesar salad? This one from Nutrition Stripped is loaded with kale and tempeh. Plus, the dressing is totally vegan since it’s made from cashews and nutritional yeast—no anchovies included.

Photo: Chocolate Covered Katie

6. Raw white bean cookie dough

It turns out the secret ingredient to perfect raw cookie dough is white beans. Those, combined with the almond butter, make for a crazy-good, calcium-rich treat in this recipe from Chocolate Covered Katie.

Candice Kumai kale salad
Photo: Candice Kumai

7. Curly kale with tahini garlic dressing

You get two calcium powerhouses in one—kale and tahini!—in this easy-to-make salad from Candice Kumai. After a quick blend of the dressing ingredients, you’re good to go.

orange smoothie
Photo: McKel Hill/Nutrition Stripped

8. Ultimate oranges smoothie

This sweet pick from Nutrition Stripped isn’t just loaded with calcium-rich oranges—it also contains plenty of other vitamins and minerals, too, from sweet potatoes, mango, ginger, and lemon.

In need of some vegan sources of iron, too? Load up your plate with these nine veggie options. Or, find out how to fuel intense workouts while sticking to a vegan diet.

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