Calcium is one of the most important vegan nutrients to understand because our source of calcium has traditionally been from animal dairy. In fact, when first switching to a plant-based diet, you will likely crave dairy foods simply because your body is unsure what else to ask for (unless you already eat the foods listed below often).
There are many easy, delicious ways for vegans to get enough calcium from plant-based foods. However, it’s also easy for vegans (or anyone not eating dairy) to become deficient in calcium if they don’t know which plants to eat, so it’s definitely something important to understand. In fact, calcium deficiency is commonly found in older vegans in particular, which can cause increased risk of bone fractures. Don’t worry though, by the end of this guide, you’ll know exactly which foods to eat more of and how to optimize your calcium intake!
How Much Calcium Do Vegans Need?
Vegans have the same recommended amount of calcium as anyone else, which makes it easy to read food labels for this nutrient. The recommended daily amount of calcium is 1000mg per day for both adult women and men age 19-50. For those over 50, the recommended calcium intake increases to 1200 mg per day. On food labels, calcium is often listed as the percent daily value rather than as the milligram level. The amount of a 100% DV serving for calcium is equal to 1300 mg.
The Best Plant-Based Calcium Sources
Plant-Based Dairy Products
The easiest answer is to keep doing what you’re doing and get the calcium from plant-based dairy foods, many of which are fortified to be an excellent source of calcium.
Check the label on various brands of plant milks to see the calcium content; many contain 10-30% DV in a 1 cup serving. For a quick tip: Blue Diamond products like their almond milk tend to contain 35% DV for calcium.
Some brands of vegan cheeses are also fortified with dairy. Go Veggie is a common one that offers shredded cheese and Parmesean sprinkle cheese, which are both fortified, but surprisingly their cheese slices are not vegan so be sure to read the labels of their products carefully. The calcium content of each product will vary; for example, their mozzarella shreds contains 30% DV and their Mexican shreds contain 20% DV. For those who love cheese, switching to this product is an easy and delicious way to get more calcium in your diet. Their shredded cheeses can be found in some Walmart stores. Use the store locator tool on their website to find these calcium-rich plant cheeses near you.
Tofu and Soy Products
Tofu is a staple in many plant-based diets and also an excellent source of calcium. To help soy milk curdle (the curds will later become the tofu), calcium chloride is often added to the soy milk. Doing this results in a significant increase of calcium in tofu. Some brands may contain as much as 30% DV for calcium, though most tend to have around 10% DV.
However, soybeans are also a calcium-loving plant that are a great source of this nutrient by themselves, so other soy foods like tempeh and edamame will also be good plant calcium sources. As always, growing conditions can vary, so be sure to check the nutrition label on your selected product to see how much calcium is available per serving.
Sesame Seeds and Tahini
Our top pick for vegan calcium is sesame seeds. Just a tablespoons of sesame seeds or tahini can deliver an easy 10% or more of the daily value for calcium, and it’s also very easy to eat more than one tablespoon. There are a number of ways to incorporate more sesame seeds into your diet, such as by adding them to smoothies, sprinkling them over yogurt, tossing them into stir fry or eating tahini, which is simply ground sesame seeds. However, as with most plants, growing conditions can vary widely, so it’s important to check that the sesame seeds or tahini you’re buying does in fact contain a high level of calcium. There are links below to several products on Amazon that we have found are great for calcium. The tahini in particular is especially high with 156 mg of calcium in just one tablespoon. See our sesame seed guide for more ideas on how to cook with sesame seeds and tahini.
Another powerhouse seed that packs in a big calcium dose is chia. Again, be sure to read the package label for the specific calcium content of a product. This chia seeds listed below from Amazon have an impressive 104 mg of calcium in just one tablespoon. By eating some chia pudding (mixing 1 tablespoon of chia seeds for every 1/4 cup of milk in a cup and letting it sit for an hour in the fridge), you can easily consume a significant portion of your daily calcium. Add a couple drops of vanilla extract or maple syrup to flavor or sweeten the pudding if desired.
Almonds and Almond Butter
Although peanut butter usually contains very little calcium, almond butter is an excellent source. There are approximately 56 mg of calcium in just one tablespoon of almond butter (as compared to peanut butter that tends to have about 7.6 mg of calcium per tablespoon. As a snack, almonds are an even better source than their buttered version with 76 mg of calcium in about a handful of the nuts (23 whole almond kernels).
Beans and Lentils
Legumes like beans and lentils also tend to be excellent sources of calcium. For example, one can of Amy’s Black Bean Chili (which is delicious by the way) has 160 mg of calcium. Black beans in general seem to be a great source, as are red kidney beans, whereas chickpeas and lentils tend to have much less. Typically cans of beans say that they contain 3.5 servings per can, though most people tend to eat at least half a can per serving. With around 30-40 mg per serving of black beans, it can start to add up quick.
Dark, Leafy Greens (Kale, Collards, Rabe)
Some dark leafy greens such as kale and collards are also great sources of calcium delivering about 10% DV per cup. Steaming them will remove much of their water content, making them smaller and easier to eat in larger serving sizes. See our recipe for Cannellini and Greens for an example.
There are many easy ways to incorporate more dark leafy greens into your diet. Add fresh greens to salads, snack on homemade kale chips, toss them into smoothies, or even drinking the juice can be a particularly good way to get more calcium from these superfoods.
calcium is extremely important for plants to grow well, which means that it often ends up in the food. Although some plants are naturally more calcium-loving than others, many will have at least a small serving of calcium. Here is a list of foods with their calcium content for comparison:
- Calcium in Broccoli = 42.8 mg per 1 cup chopped
- Calcium in Carrots = 42.2 mg per 1 cup chopped
- Calcium in Cauliflower = 23 mg per 1 cup chopped
- Calcium in Avocados = 16.3 mg per avocado
- Calcium in Oranges = 52 mg per 1 orange
- Calcium in Apples = 10 mg per 1 medium apple
- Calcium in Banana = 5.9 mg per 1 medium banana
As you can see, some foods above have a decent amount that will easily start to add up throughout the day, particularly eating an orange and a serving of carrots or broccoli, whereas others like a banana will still contribute to your daily total but won’t be one of your better sources.
Should Vegans Take Calcium Supplements?
Calcium is somewhat difficult for the body to absorb, which means that supplements need to be taken multiple times per day in smaller doses, similar to how one would receive calcium from food, in order for them to be effective. However, there also are risks and drawbacks to taking a calcium supplement. For example, there are several different sources for calcium in supplements, one of which (mineral-derived calcium) is linked to increased heart issues. It’s also important to note that finding a calcium supplement without added ingredients (which may not be right for everyone) can be difficult. This is because certain nutrients like vitamin D and vitamin K can help calcium to absorb more easily. Be sure to consult your doctor before considering a calcium supplement.
How to Improve Calcium Absorption
Calcium supplements are often formulated to include vitamin D because the combination will help the calcium to better absorb. Obviously vitamin D is the sunshine vitamin and easy can be increased in our bodies by sitting in the sun for about 15 minutes daily with good skin exposure, depending on skin tone (slightly less time for lighter tones and slightly longer for darker tones). Check out our guide on Your Vitamin D Might Not Be Vegan for more important info on this. If you do decide to take a calcium supplement that includes vitamin D, be sure to check the vitamin D is vegan (either by looking for a vegan certification on the product or by checking that it’s vitamin D2 rather than D3 as the D3 form usually is not vegan).
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration – How to Understand and Use the Nutrition Facts Label
- Harvard Univerdity – Calcium: What’s Best For Your Bones and Health?