I can’t even begin to count the number of times that people have told me that I can’t get enough calcium on a plant based diet! It seems that they think the only place to find calcium is from a cow or possibly a goat. The thing that most people don’t realise is that there are actually so many delicious sources of calcium in plants and other whole foods. Plus these sources also normally contain vitamins C and K as well as potassium and magnesium, which are all really important for overall bone health.
Calcium is the mineral that we have the most of in our bodies, with 99% of it being stored in our bones and teeth and the other 1% found in our blood and soft tissues. It is vital for not only maintaining strong and healthy bones but also for regulating the way our blood clots and managing muscle contractions, including the heart. It also reduces the tendency of fat cells to store calories. So calcium helps our hearts beat and helps us to stay looking the way we want.
Calcium from milk really isn’t as great for your bones as most of us have been brought up to believe. While the calcium content of milk is high, there have been many studies that show it in fact has several negative impacts on our bodies. Calcium from cow’s milk is really hard for our bodies to absorb, especially if it is pasteurized like most of the products you can find in a supermarket. On top of that, it can actually cause calcium loss in our bones! This is because milk causes the pH of our bodies to become acidic which triggers a natural reaction in our bodies to bring the pH of our blood back to neutral. Calcium is really good at neutralizing acidity so when we drink milk, calcium is drawn from our bones in order to rebalance the acidity it causes which can result in a calcium deficit which is anything but good for our bones!
According to the NHS, adults need at least 700mg of calcium a day although in the US this figure is about 1000mg and breastfeeding women and those with coeliac disease or osteoporosis have a higher requirement. So we do need to be conscious that we’re getting lots of calcium into our bodies everyday to keep us happy and healthy. Saying that, it’s really easy to meet this requirement, and all the necessary foods are delicious!
My favourite sources are spinach, broccoli, tahini/sesame seeds, figs, kale, almonds, chickpeas and kidney beans. To give you some idea of how rich these sources are I should say that one cup of spinach provides you with over a third of your RDA of calcium – this is so achievable as you can just whizz your cup of spinach into your morning smoothie. Adding a couple of tablespoons of tahini to your meal then boosts your calcium intake by another 160mg too, so you can see that you’re getting to the optimum calcium levels – I love stirring tahini into quinoa and brown rice or using it in salad dressings like my marinated kale salad, which is another awesome source of calcium. Plus tahini is the magic ingredient in hummus, which is a goldmine for calcium as it uses chickpeas too, which is a great excuse to devour vats of hummus every day! Having a kale salad with a tahini dressing and some hummus on the side really is a calcium feast!
If you are worried about calcium deficiency though it is always best to consult a naturopath who can help you to look at your intake and advise you of any changes that you may need to make. It is also worth knowing that Vitamin D helps your body to absorb calcium so it is equally important to make sure you are getting enough of that too. Exposure to sunlight is the best way to do this (but don’t go to crazy and remember to look after your skin!) – and mushrooms are also a really easy source of vitamin D and they make any meal delicious!