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Top 10 Vegan Sources of Calcium

Health + Wellness
Joana Sonnhoff / EyeEm / Getty Images

Calcium plays crucial roles in your body.


It's well known for its ability to build and maintain your bones. Yet, this mineral is also important for muscle contraction, blood pressure regulation, nerve transmission, and blood clotting (1).

The Reference Daily Intake (RDI) is 1,000 mg per day for adults. This shoots up to 1,200 mg for those over 50, and to 1,300 for children ages 4–18.

Still, a large percentage of people don't meet these recommendations. This includes many who avoid eating animal products and dairy — though many plant foods contain this mineral (2, 3, 4).

Here are the top 10 vegan foods high in calcium.

1. Soy Foods

Soybeans are naturally rich in calcium.

One cup (175 grams) of cooked soybeans provides 18.5% of the RDI, whereas the same quantity of immature soybeans — known as edamame — offers around 27.6% (4).

Foods made from soybeans, such as tofu, tempeh, and natto, are also rich in this mineral. Tofu made with calcium phosphate contains 350 mg per 3.5 ounces (100 grams).

Tempeh and natto — made from fermented soybeans — provide good amounts as well. One 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving of tempeh covers around 11% of the RDI, whereas natto offers about twice that amount (4).

Minimally processed soy foods are also a great source of fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Plus, they're one of the rare plant foods considered a complete source of protein.

That's because — while most plant foods are low in at least one of the nine essential amino acids — soybeans offer good amounts of all of them.

Summary

Soybeans and soy-based foods are great sources of calcium. They also offer complete protein, fiber, and an array of other vitamins and minerals.

2. Beans, Peas and Lentils

In addition to being rich in fiber and protein, beans and lentils are good sources of calcium.

The varieties providing the highest levels of this mineral per cooked cup (about 175 grams) include (4):

  • winged (goa) beans: 26% of the RDI
  • white beans: 13% of the RDI
  • navy beans: 13% of the RDI
  • black beans: 11% of the RDI
  • chickpeas: 9% of the RDI
  • kidney beans: 7% of the RDI
  • lentils: 4% of the RDI

Moreover, beans and lentils tend to be rich in other nutrients, including iron, zinc, potassium, magnesium, and folate. However, they also contain antinutrients like phytates and lectins, which lower your body's ability to absorb other nutrients (5).

Soaking, sprouting, and fermenting beans and lentils can reduce antinutrient levels, making them more absorbable (6, 7, 8).

What's more, diets rich in beans, peas, and lentils lower LDL (bad) cholesterol, and decrease your risk of conditions like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and premature death (9, 10, 11).

Summary

Beans, peas, and lentils contain decent amounts of calcium and are great sources of protein and fiber. Soaking, sprouting, or fermenting them can improve nutrient absorption.

3. Certain Nuts

All nuts contain small amounts of calcium, but almonds are especially rich — providing 97 mg per 1/4 cup (35 grams), or about 10% of the RDI (4).

Brazil nuts are second to almonds, providing around 6% of the RDI per 1/4 cup (35 grams) while walnuts, pistachios, hazelnuts, and macadamia nuts provide between 2–3% of the RDI for the same quantity.

Nuts are also good sources of fiber, healthy fats, and protein. What's more, they're rich in antioxidants and contain good amounts of B vitamins, magnesium, copper, potassium, and selenium, as well as vitamins E and K.

Eating nuts regularly may help you lose weight, lower your blood pressure, and reduce risk factors for metabolic diseases, such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease (12, 13).

Summary

Nuts are a good source of calcium. One-quarter cup (35 grams) helps you meet between 2–10% of the RDI, depending on the type of nut.

4. Seeds

Seeds and their butters are also good sources of calcium, but the amount they contain depends on the variety.

Tahini — a butter made from sesame seeds — contains the most, providing 130 mg per 2 tablespoons (30 ml) — or 13% of the RDI. In comparison, the same quantity (20 grams) of sesame seeds only provides 2% of the RDI (4).

Chia and flax seeds also contain decent amounts, providing around 5–6% of the RDI per 2 tablespoons (20–25 grams).

Like nuts, seeds provide fiber, protein, healthy fats, vitamins, minerals, and beneficial plant compounds. Plus, they're linked to health benefits, such as reduced inflammation, blood sugar levels, and risk factors for heart disease (14, 15, 16, 17).

Summary

Certain varieties of seeds or their butters can provide up to 13% of the RDI for calcium. Like nuts, seeds are also rich in healthy fats, protein, and fiber. What's more, they may protect against a variety of diseases.

5. Some Grains

Grains aren't typically thought of as a source of calcium. Yet, some varieties contain significant amounts of this mineral.

For example, amaranth and teff — two gluten-free ancient grains — provide around 12% of the RDI per cooked cup (250 grams) (4).

Both are rich in fiber and can be incorporated into a variety of dishes.

Teff can be made into a porridge or added to chili, while amaranth provides an easy substitute for rice or couscous. Both can be ground into a flour and used to thicken soups and sauces.

Summary

Some grains provide significant amounts of calcium. For example, amaranth and teff pack around 12–15% of the RDI. They're also rich in fiber and can be incorporated into a wide variety of meals.

6. Seaweed

Adding seaweed to your diet is yet another way to increase your calcium intake.

Wakame — a variety typically eaten raw — provides around 126 mg, or 12% of the RDI per cup (80 grams). You can find it in most Asian supermarkets or in sushi restaurants (4).

Kelp, which can be eaten raw or dried, is another popular option. One cup (80 grams) of raw kelp — which you can add to salads and main dishes — provides around 14% of the RDI. Dried kelp flakes can also be used as seasoning.

That said, seaweed may also contain high levels of heavy metals. Some varieties, such as kelp, can contain excessively large amounts of iodine per portion (18, 19).

While iodine is needed for the proper function of your thyroid gland, getting too much can be harmful. For these reasons, seaweed shouldn't be consumed too often or in large quantities (20, 21, 22).

Summary

Some types of seaweed are rich in calcium. However, some seaweed may also contain heavy metals and excessively high levels of iodine — both of which can have negative health effects.

7. Certain Vegetables and Leafy Greens

Some vegetables — especially bitter ones like dark leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables — are rich in calcium (23).

For instance, spinach, bok choy, as well as turnip, mustard, and collard greens provide 84–142 mg per cooked 1/2 cup (70–95 grams, depending on the variety) — or 8–14% of the RDI (4).

Other calcium-rich vegetables include okra, kale, cabbage, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts. These provide around 3–6% of the RDI per cooked 1/2 cup (60–80 grams).

That said, vegetables also contain variable levels of antinutrients, such as oxalates. Oxalates can bind to calcium in your gut, making it more difficult for your body to absorb (24).

Studies show that your body may only absorb around 5% of the calcium found in some high-oxalate vegetables (25).

This is why low- and moderate-oxalate vegetables like turnip greens, broccoli, and kale are considered better sources than higher-oxalate vegetables, such as spinach, beet greens, and Swiss chard (26).

Boiling is one way to reduce oxalate levels by 30–87%. Interestingly, it appears to be more effective than steaming or baking (27).

Summary

Low- and medium-oxalate vegetables, such as turnip greens, broccoli, and kale, are a source of calcium that your body can easily absorb. Boiling them will further boost absorption.

8. Some Fruit

Some varieties of fruit contain good amounts of calcium.

For instance, raw figs provide 18 mg — or close to 2% of the RDI — per fig. Dried figs offer slightly less at around 13 mg per fig (4).

Oranges are another somewhat high-calcium fruit. They contain around 48–65 mg, or 5–7% of the RDI per medium-sized fruit, depending on the variety.

Blackcurrants, blackberries, and raspberries round off this list.

Blackcurrants pack around 65 mg of calcium per cup (110 grams) — or around 7% of the RDI — whereas blackberries and raspberries provide you with 32–44 mg per cup (145 grams and 125 grams, respectively).

In addition to calcium, these fruits also offer a good dose of fiber, vitamin C, and an array of other vitamins and minerals.

Summary

Figs, oranges, blackcurrants and blackberries are worth adding to your diet. They're fruits with the highest amounts of easily absorbable calcium.

9. Fortified Foods and Drinks

Some foods and drinks have calcium added during the manufacturing process. They're another good way to add this mineral to your diet.

Foods fortified in calcium include plant yogurts and some types of cereal. Flour and cornmeal are sometimes also enriched with this mineral, which is why some baked goods including breads, crackers, or tortillas contain large amounts.

Fortified drinks, such as plant milks and orange juice, can also add significant amounts of calcium to your diet.

For instance, 1 cup (240 ml) of fortified plant milk, regardless of the type, typically provides around 30% of the RDI — or 300 mg of highly absorbable calcium. On the other hand, 1 cup (240 ml) of fortified orange juice usually covers up to 50% of your daily requirements (4, 28).

In particular, soy milk is a great alternative to cow's milk, as it contains about the same quantity of protein — or 7 grams per cup (240 ml).

Just keep in mind that not all plant milks are fortified, so check the label before buying.

Summary

Foods and drinks fortified with calcium include plant milks and yogurts, flour, cornmeal, orange juice, and some types of cereal. It's best to check the label to see how much each food contains.

10. Blackstrap Molasses

Blackstrap molasses is a sweetener with a nutritional punch.

It's made from sugar cane that has been boiled three times. Unlike sugar, it contains several vitamins and minerals, including 179 mg of calcium — or 18% of the RDI — per tablespoon (15 ml).

The nutrients in 1 tablespoon (15 ml) of blackstrap molasses can also help cover around 5–15% of your daily requirements for iron, selenium, vitamin B6, magnesium, and manganese (4).

That said, blackstrap molasses remains very high in sugar, so you should eat it in moderation.

Summary

Blackstrap molasses is high in sugar but also contains a variety of vitamins and minerals. One tablespoon (15 ml) covers around 18% of your daily calcium needs.

The Bottom Line

Calcium is important for the health of your bones and muscles, as well as your circulatory and nervous systems. Yet many people fail to get enough of this nutrient, including vegans.

Dairy is often thought of as the only source of this mineral. However, it's also naturally present in an array of plant foods — from grains and legumes to fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds. You'll even find it in seaweed and blackstrap molasses.

What's more, several foods are fortified with this nutrient. Thus, variety is key when trying to meet your calcium needs on a vegan diet.

Medically reviewed by Alina Petre, MS, RD.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Healthline.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Farms with just one or a handful of different crops encourage fewer species of pollinating and pest-controlling insects to linger, ultimately winnowing away crop yields, according to a new study.

Up to half of the detrimental impacts of the "landscape simplification" that monocropping entails come as a result of a diminished mix of ecosystem service-providing insects, a team of scientists reported Oct. 16 in the journal Science Advances.

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SHARE Foundation / Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0​

"Our study shows that biodiversity is essential to ensure the provision of ecosystem services and to maintain a high and stable agricultural production," Matteo Dainese, the study's lead author and a biologist at Eurac Research in Bolzano, Italy, said in a statement.

It stands to reason that, with declines in the sheer numbers of insects that ferry pollen from plant to plant and keep crop-eating pests under control, these services will wane as well. But until now, it hasn't been clear how monocultures affect the number and mix of these species or how crop yields might change as a result.

Aiming to solve these questions, Dainese and his colleagues pulled together data from 89 studies cutting across a variety of landscapes, from the tropics of Asia and Africa to the higher latitudes of northern Europe. They tabulated the number of pollinating and pest-controlling insects at these sites — both the absolute number of individuals and the number of species — along with an assessment of the ecosystem services the insects provided.

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"Our study provides strong empirical support for the potential benefits of new pathways to sustainable agriculture that aim to reconcile the protection of biodiversity and the production of food for increasing human populations," Ingolf Steffan-Dewenter, one of the study's authors and an animal ecologist at the University of Würzburg in Germany, said in the statement.

The scientists figure that the richness of pollinator species explains around a third of the harmful impacts of less diverse landscapes, while the richness of pest-controlling species accounts for about half of the same measure. In their view, the results of their research point to the need to protect biodiversity on and around crops in an uncertain future.

"Under future conditions with ongoing global change and more frequent extreme climate events, the value of farmland biodiversity ensuring resilience against environmental disturbances will become even more important," Steffan-Dewenter said.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Mongabay.

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