We have heard it on television and in media, on food labels and from our mom and dad our entire life, drink milk if you want to be big and strong! You need to drink milk to get your calcium. And by milk, I mean cow’s milk. We drink cow’s milk to keep our bones strong, but did you know that the high content of protein in cow’s milk may be contributing to osteoporosis? North America has one of the highest rates of osteoporosis in the World, and we have some of the highest intake of cow’s milk. Cow’s milk also leads to skin problems, as the sugar content is so high. Skin problems can also be caused by the hormones and insulin the cow’s have from being constantly pregnant, which then come into the milk we drink!! There are also the horrible problems about the dairy farm industry and how cows are treated and their living conditions, but I won’t even go there. This is a post to share with you the importance of calcium and show you that you do not need cow’s milk in order to get it!
Calcium is a nutrient that comes from the soil and it is important if you want a healthy nervous system, good and healthy blood pressure and strong teeth and bones, among other things. It is quite well known that dairy is a popular food that has calcium, but I want you to know that you can find many foods that are plant-based which also provide calcium, and some of these foods even contain more calcium then animal products.
Dairy foods are highly acidic and they may contribute to breaking down your bones and lead to many health related issues. Plant-based foods will work to prevent that breakdown and they will also work to bring down inflammation in your body.
Calcium may be the most important nutrient for an athlete, and most North Americans fail to meet the minimum daily requirement of calcium, whether they are athletes or not. 99% of our bodies calcium is found in our bones and our teeth. The daily recommended intake is 1000-1500 mg/day, depending on your age.
But, the more intense the exercise or sport, the greater the body’s nutrient needs. Vegan diets are generally low in calcium, providing about 2/3 the daily requirement for men and 1/3 for women. But there are plenty of plant based foods high in calcium, it’s just that many of us don’t eat enough of them!
Rich plant food sources of calcium, include dark green vegetables such as broccoli, bok choy and kale, beans, tofu, tahini, sesame seeds, almonds, figs, and fortified soy milks. It’s important to know though, that some plant foods contain oxalates which can inhibit calcium absorption. We think all vegetables are good and healthy for us, and mainly they are, but you may not be getting maximum nutrients from certain ones.
Oxalates, found in foods such as spinach, swiss chard, rubarb, and beet greens, can bind calcium and we only absorb 5% from those foods. We absorb 70% of the calcium from kale, collard greens and broccoli. Everyday about 8000 milligrams of calcium pass through our bodies, and we reabsorb 98% of the mineral. In some plants calcium is tightly bound with oxalates, making the calcium less assessable to us.
We absorb calcium more efficiently when small amounts are eaten throughout the day, as opposed to a huge meal high in calcium. And there are many plant based foods that are low in oxalates and good sources of readily available calcium; kale, bok choy, broccoli, mustard, turnip greens, almonds, figs.
The calcium we absorb from these greens is higher then the calcium we absorb from cow’s milk.
Soy Milk, rice milk and Orange juice are all fortified sources of calcium, containing the same amount of calcium per cup as cow’s milk.
There are 2 thieves of calcium, and that is sodium and protein. High sodium intakes decrease our kidneys abilities to reabsorb calcium. Processed foods also suck up so much of our calcium, because of their huge salt intake. High protein diets also decrease our calcium consumption. For every gram of protein over 47 g daily, we lose .5 mg of calcium in our urine.
High calcium also interferes with iron absorption, so if taking supplements for both, it’s important not to take them together.
Vegan athlete are at an advantage when it comes to calcium absorption. Taking part in exercise, avoiding excess salt and avoiding extremes of protein, work to our advantage and we are able to absorb a good amount of calcium, assuming one is following a well balanced diet.
Here are some ways that you can help to boost your calcium, while following a plant-based diet!
- Cook porridge, or oats, with fortified soy or rice milk
- Eat broccoli raw
- Add almonds and calcium rich greens to your salads
- Use tofu. Scrambled tofu makes a great dish for any meal!
- Use almond butter instead of peanut butter
- Snack on figs or add figs to your trail mix
- Use blackstrap molasses as a sweetener in baking and cooking
While milk may be an important source of calcium for those who chose to consume animal products, it is not necessary for human health.
(Some information and facts have come from Becoming Vegetarian, The Complete Guide to adopting a healthy vegetarian diet by Vesanto Melina and Brenda Davis).