18 Feb Calcium in a vegan diet? Dairy free calcium rich foods
On social media recently, I posted about the excitement I felt about finding a recipe for coconut yoghurt. And indeed, for the past couple of weeks, I have been excited because most days I have been eating a completely vegan diet. The purpose of this post is to work out if and how to get calcium in a vegan diet. I want to know if there are enough dairy free calcium rich foods to be able to supply all the calcium our bodies need.
The vegan way of eating appeals to my ethics because of the cruel practices for harvesting milk from mother cows, as well as the obvious horrors of killing animals for meat. I don’t always manage to do it every day, but I am mindfully moving in that direction.
However, calcium is a very important electrolyte used by our heart and has other important functions in our body. My usual sign that I am not getting enough calcium is to start to experience costochondritis. How do you know if you aren’t getting enough? It is important to work this out because most people aren’t getting enough calcium in a vegan diet, or otherwise.
The role of calcium in our bodies
Calcium plays a very important role in our health.
- it strengthens bones and teeth
- regulates muscle functioning, such as contraction and relaxation
- regulates heart functioning
- is important in blood clotting
- helps the transmission of nervous system messages
- supports enzyme function. 
What happens when we don’t get enough calcium in our diet?
If you don’t get enough calcium in your diet and over half of all Australians do not, then your parathyroid hormone will stimulate your bones to release calcium into your blood. This is important because it can make your bones lose mass, and become more porous leading to brittle and fragile bones and ultimately osteoporosis.
Parathyroid hormone also supports calcium levels in the blood by:
- Causes the kidneys to excrete less calcium in urine
- Stimulates the digestive tract to absorb more calcium
- Causes the kidneys to activate vitamin D, which enables the digestive tract to absorb more calcium 
How much calcium do men and women and children need?
|Age and life stage||Recommended dietary intake of calcium (mg/day)|
|Babies 0–6 months – breastfed||approx. 210 mg|
|Babies 0–6 months – formula fed||approx. 350 mg|
|Babies 7–12 months||270 mg|
|Children 1–3 years||500 mg|
|Children 4–8 years||700 mg|
|Children 9–11 years||1,000 mg|
|Adolescents 12–18 years (including pregnant and breastfeeding young women)||1,300 mg|
|Women 19–50 (including pregnant and breastfeeding women)||1,000 mg|
|Women 51–70||1,300 mg|
|Men 19–70||1,000 mg|
|Adults over 70||1,300 mg|
Is it possible to get enough calcium in a vegan diet?
Swapping one of my main sources of dairy for a dairy free version makes me wonder about whether there are enough dairy free calcium rich foods that we can eat to get our daily supply of calcium?
In order to assess this, I am going to plot out a normal day of food and to see if it would be possible, while still eating a healthy mainly vegetarian diet to get enough calcium.
[insert table here]
Total (nearly) dairy free calcium in a vegan diet
The total calcium in this day’s menu is actually 1173 mg over the course of the day, which is not too shabby! There was a little feta in the day, which was kind of cheating, but I do still use some feta in cooking occasionally. Even without the feta, the total would still be in excess of 1000 mg so that is pretty good!
Perhaps it IS possible to eat enough dairy free calcium rich foods to get enough calcium in a vegan diet.
There is actually a little bit of calcium in lots of different foods. If you are careful to include some calcium rich foods into your diets, such as nuts and seeds, legumes and even leafy greens you are likely to get enough calcium throughout the day.
Top dairy free calcium rich foods
1. Nuts and seeds
Many nuts and seeds are good sources of calcium. For instance, 1 tablespoon (9 grams) of poppy seeds has 126 mg, while 1 tbsp of sesame seeds contains 88 g. Furthermore nuts like almonds and walnuts pack a calcium punch – almonds – 82 mg of calcium per ounce (28 g) and walnuts 27 mg calcium per ounce (28 g). 
2. Beans and lentils
Beans are highly nutritious. One cup (240 grams) of canned black beans delivers 84 mg of calcium, while other varieties provide around 4–13% RDI (40 – 130 mg) for the same serving size.
3. Leafy greens
Some dark, leafy greens are rich in calcium. One cup (117 grams) of cooked kale packs 177 mg or 14 % of your daily needs. However, some leafy greens contain oxalates, which make some calcium unavailable to your body. 
Dried figs contain more calcium than other dried fruits. A single ounce (28 grams) has 46 mg or 5% of your daily needs for this mineral. 
Like spinach, rhubarb is high in oxalates, so only about a quarter of the calcium is absorbed into the body. However, rhubarb does contain a lot of calcium. So even if you’re only absorbing 25%, you still get 87 mg per cup (240 grams) of cooked rhubarb. 
One cup (155 grams) of edamame packs 100 mg or 10% of the RDI for calcium. It’s also a good source of protein and delivers all your daily folate in a single serving. 
7. Fortified foods
You may be able to find a wide array of foods that have been fortified with calcium. Plant-based milks like oat milk, almond milk etc are often fortified with calcium. You can also get tofu that has been prepared with calcium, orange juice and breakfast cereals. These foods can contain up to 50 % of your daily needs for calcium.
It may be possible to get enough calcium in a vegan diet!
It seems that it is definitely possible to get enough calcium eating a plant-based and even a dairy free diet.
I hope this post has helped you to make decisions about what to eat and what to cut in order to get enough calcium in your diet. It is super important!
- Victoria State Government, 2021, ‘Calcium’, Better Health Channel, viewed online at < https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/calcium >, accessed 15th February 2021.
- Lewis, J, 2020, ‘Overview of Calcium’s Role in the Body’ MSD Manual – Consumer Version, viewed online at
< https://www.msdmanuals.com/home/hormonal-and-metabolic-disorders/electrolyte-balance/overview-of-calciums-role-in-the-body > accessed 15th February 2021.
- Jennings, KA, 2018, ‘Top 15 Calcium-Rich Foods (Many Are Non-Dairy)’, Healthline, viewed at < https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/15-calcium-rich-foods > accessed 15th February 2021.