• Alyssa Fontaine, RD
  • Apr 09, 2024

7 Vegan Sources High in Calcium

“You have to drink milk if you want to grow taller”. Growing up, we all must have heard this statement at least a few times from our parents. When we asked about the reason, they likely said that it was because milk provides us with calcium. 

Nevertheless, some individuals abstain from drinking milk or consuming dairy products as part of their diet. Some of the reasons behind this choice include a lactose-intolerance, or an adherence to specific plant-based diets that include no dairy products. 

 If you are keen on starting or learning more about plant-based diets, plant-based dietitians could provide valuable guidance. 

Before we get to vegan sources of calcium, it’s essential to gain a deeper understanding of this mineral.

What is calcium and its function?

Calcium is one of the seven major minerals (salts) in the body. Moreover, it’s a very important nutrient for us and the most abundant mineral in the human body. 

What are the roles of calcium in body fluids?

Calcium, like other minerals, serves a crucial role in keeping the fluid balance in the body. 

As you may already know, water constitutes approximately 60% of the human body. The body’s water is divided into two main fluid compartments

  • Intracellular fluid (the fluid filling the area inside body cells) 
  • Extracellular fluid (the fluid filling the area outside body cells) 

Most importantly, body cells don’t have control over the movement of fluids across cell membranes. The cells can, however, regulate the transport of minerals across their membranes, and this regulation subsequently influences the movement of fluids.  

In other words, the water movement across the cell membrane follows the minerals movement. Calcium helps control the movement of fluids across cell membranes, ensuring that the right amount of water is retained inside cells.

What are the 5 functions of calcium?

  1. Bone and teeth health: 

Do you know that 99% of the body’s calcium is stored in bones and teeth? Hence, calcium, together with other minerals, contribute to bone and teeth strength and health. 

The other 1% is in the blood and cells and is needed for the following critical functions. 

  1. Muscle contraction: 

Calcium plays a crucial role in facilitating muscle contraction and relaxation. When the brain sends a signal to muscle fibers to contract or relax, calcium is released within the muscle cells, enabling the desired action to occur. 

Excess calcium in the muscle cells can hinder relaxation, potentially leading to muscle cramps because the muscles struggle to return to their resting state. 

Conversely, a deficiency of calcium in the bloodstream can result in muscle weakness. This could occur because the muscles do not have sufficient calcium to initiate or sustain contractions effectively.

  1. Supports the nervous system: 

Calcium plays a vital role in nerve function, notably in neurotransmitter release. Neurotransmitters  act as the messengers transmitted between nerves.

  1. Blood clotting: 

Calcium plays a crucial  role in platelet activation. Platelets are blood cells that are needed for coagulation. When platelets are activated, they change shape, adhere to the site of injury and form blood clots to prevent excessive bleeding. 

  1. Cardiovascular health: 

Calcium helps maintain normal blood pressure.

In summary, the precise regulation of calcium levels is essential. Both calcium deficiency and toxicity have serious consequences. For example, a low calcium intake during pregnancy could put the mother at risk for gestational hypertension. 

Plant-based pregnancy and lactation nutritionists could offer needed support to ensure you meet your vitamins and minerals requirements through a balanced vegan pregnancy meal plan

How much calcium does a vegan need?

Calcium needs depend on many factors including age, gender, the bioavailability of calcium in foods, and vitamin D status. 

Age and gender:

Calcium recommended amounts differ throughout the different stages of life. 

  • Children and adolescents (9-18 yr.) have higher needs since they are growing and developing their peak bone. Hence, it’s recommended to get on average 1300 mg of calcium per day.
  • Adults (19-50 yr.) needs of calcium are lower than those of adolescents and are the same for males and females: 1000 mg per day. 
  • As for older adults, the Recommended Daily Allowances (RDA) vary according to gender. In general, more calcium is needed to minimize bone loss. Females are advised to get around 1200 mg of calcium per day starting from the age of 51 years old. On the other hand, males only require an increased intake of 1200 mg per day over the age of 70 years old. 

Bioavailability of calcium – vegan and non-vegan sources of calcium 

Calcium absorption from food sources could be as low as 5% and as high as 50+%. 

While it’s commonly known that high calcium foods are animal-based, there are plenty of plant-based vegan sources of calcium. It might even come as a surprise that the calcium absorption rate of various plant-based foods is higher than that of milk, yogurt, and cheese. 

The key takeaway here is that with proper planning and knowledge, you can still get a significant amount of calcium through a vegan diet. 

To learn more about building a well- balanced vegan diet, you can take advantage of online vegan dietitian/ nutritionist services.

Vitamin D status 

Vitamin D plays an important role in regulating blood calcium. When the body needs more calcium, vitamin D acts on 3 main body locations to increase blood calcium levels.

Vitamin D facilitates:

  • the absorption of calcium from food in the gastrointestinal tract (GI tract).
  • the reabsorption of calcium in the kidneys.
  • Bone remodeling – it activates osteoblasts (cells that help bone growth).

It’s essential to maintain adequate vitamin D levels from your diet to ensure proper calcium absorption. Your physician may prescribe you vitamin D supplements to meet your daily needs. 

Finally, calcium needs and status may be influenced by other factors such as 

  • specific health conditions like osteoporosis. 
  • dietary habits like consuming a lot of salt or tobacco.

Thus, it’s recommended to consult a physician and plant-based dietitians to help you determine your specific requirements in calcium and vitamin D. 

How do vegans get their calcium?

Vegans can get their calcium through plant-based sources such as vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds, and soy products. 

7 Vegan sources of Calcium – What vegan food is highest in calcium?

Here are 7 vegan sources of high calcium that you could start incorporating into your diet. 

The tables below containing the food items that are highest in calcium from each category are adapted from Becoming Vegan: Comprehensive Edition: The Complete Reference to Plant-Based Nutrition.

You could also book an appointment with plant-based vegan nutritionists to help you build a balanced vegan diet and provide you with calcium-rich meal plans

  1. Dark green vegetables 

Some leafy dark green vegetables are high in calcium. The calcium absorption rate of different dark green vegetables depends on their oxalates content. Oxalates are natural compounds that could be found in some foods. 

The higher the oxalate content in vegetables, the lower their calcium absorption rate tends to be. This is because oxalates can bind with calcium, which makes calcium less absorbable by the body.

Here are some examples of dark leafy greens with high calcium content: 

Dark green vegetable Portion size Calcium content (mg) / portion
Turnip greens, chopped 1 cup = 250 ml110
Kale, cooked 1 cup = 250 ml100
Bok choy, cooked½ cup  = 125 ml84
Okra 1 cup65
Mustard greens1 cup61
Collard greens, chopped  1 cup55
Rutabaga, chopped, cooked ½ cup43
Watercress, chopped 1 cup43
Cabbage, chopped1 cup 38-42
Turnip, cooked ½ cup40
Broccoli, cooked½ cup33
Brussels sprouts, cooked ½ cup30
  1. Fruits

Some examples of calcium-rich fruits are oranges and figs. 

FruitPortion sizeCalcium (mg)/ portion
Figs, dried ¼ cup = 60 ml61
Grapefruit1 pink 54
orange1 medium52

Is banana rich in calcium?

While this may appear unusual to some, there are many myths and misconceptions surrounding the nutrient content of certain foods. 

For example, bananas are not usually considered as a good source of calcium. Nonetheless, they are regarded as an excellent source of potassium, another important mineral for the body. 

One medium banana only contains about 6 mg of calcium according to the Canadian Nutrient File

Plant-based nutritionists are among the best reliable sources to clarify any misconceptions about nutrition. 

  1. Soy foods 

Soy- based foods are vegan sources that are high in calcium and could help you meet your daily calcium requirements if integrated as part of your vegan diet. 

Did you know that some types of tofu have added calcium and are called calcium-set tofu.

Soy productsPortion sizeCalcium (mg)/ portion
Tofu, calcium-set ½ cup = 125 ml268 – 909 or as precised on the label
Soy milk, fortified½ cup158 – 163
Tempeh ½ cup97
  1. Beans 
BeansPortion sizeCalcium (mg)/ portion
Soy beans ½ cup93
White beans ½ cup85
Navy beans ½ cup 66
Edamame ½ cup49
Pinto beans½ cup41
  1. Nuts

Almonds contain the highest calcium content  among other nuts. 

Here is a helpful tip: if you want to enhance calcium absorption from almonds, you can soak them for about 8-12 hours. 

Nuts and nut butters Portion sizeCalcium (mg)/ portion
Almond butter2 tbsp. (30ml)113
Almonds¼ cup96
Brazil nuts¼ cup57
  1. Seeds 
SeedsPortion sizeCalcium (mg)/ portion
Sesame seeds, whole ¼ cup356
Chia seeds ¼ cup 269
Flaxseeds, groud¼ cup81
Sesame tahini 2 tbsp. (30ml)43
  1. Grains 
GrainsPortion sizeCalcium (mg)/ portion
Amaranth½ cup58
Bread, whole wheat1 slice = 30g48

Do vegans have calcium deficiency?

As mentioned above, there is an ample variety of vegan foods that contain a significant amount of calcium. Yet, some people still fail to meet their minimum needs and end up with a deficiency. 

How do you know if your calcium is low?

Some symptoms that may indicate that your calcium level is low include:

  • Stunted growth in children.
  • Weak bones in children.
  • Bone loss (osteoporosis) in adults. 
  • Frequent bone fractures. 
  • Muscle cramps

You need to consult a health care professional and request a blood test to diagnose calcium deficiency. 

How to get 1000-1200 mg of calcium a day as a vegan without dairy?

If you have a calcium deficiency, your physician may recommend calcium supplements to help you meet your daily requirements. 

Nonetheless, vegan dietitians could help you try increasing your calcium intake from dietary sources before resorting to supplements. 

Along with vegan sources of calcium, you may be interested to try some fortified vegan foods and drinks that provide extra calcium. Calcium- fortified foods include fortified juices and non dairy beverages (oat, soy, cashew, almonds) and fortified cereals. 

Vegan calcium supplements – Should I take calcium supplements if I’m vegan?

Calcium supplements could be a great option in case you are not able to meet your calcium requirements through dietary vegan sources. However, it’s recommended to consult a physician before starting to take supplements.

Calcium supplements are not necessarily all vegan. It depends on the ingredients that could be used during the processing. 

Here are our the top recommended vegan calcium supplements:

Vegan plant-based dietitians could help you understand labels and decide on the best calcium supplements suitable for you. 

Is calcium lactate vegan?

Calcium lactate is used in medications and supplements, as well as in various food products for different functions including thickening and flavour.  You may have seen it as a calcium supplement and wondering if calcium lactate is vegan friendly. 

What is calcium lactate made from? – Is calcium lactate derived from dairy?

Calcium lactate is a salt that is commercially produced using calcium and lactic acid. Lactic acid is a byproduct that forms when sugars are fermented or broken down. In general, most calcium lactate could be considered vegan. However, some lactic acid is obtained through the fermentation of dairy products. Nonetheless, this method is less common today. 

Calcium toxicity – Is it possible?

Finally, you need to exercise caution when taking calcium supplements. An excessive intake of calcium, usually in the form of supplements, could lead to calcium toxicity. Calcium toxicity could lead to constipation, increased risk kidney stone formation, or interference with other minerals.

Do you feel like you need more support with your vegan diet? Contact our team and book a free discovery call.

© All Rights Reserved, Plant-Based Dietitians 2024