I’m responding here to 4 questions I’ve had over the last week about how to get enough calcium when you’re eating a plant-based diet. Great question! Many of you are worried about your bones becoming less dense, and more brittle. And this is a very real concern. The key to strong bones is absolutely a super healthy diet, and lots weight-bearing exercise. Luckily it isn’t hard because many plants contain a great deal of calcium. But let’s break it down so that you can really make sure you’re hitting you are getting enough calcium.
First, off, how much do we need daily? The RDA for is 1,000 mg, and for women over 50 and men over 70, is 1,200mg. This doesn’t mean that you have to get all this from a supplement. Actually supplementing with higher doses (beyond 1,000 mg), could potentially be dangerous as it raises your risk for heart attack. So, don’t rush out and buy a mega calcium dose pill!
You’re better off getting as much calcium as you can from plants, but if you want to top up and make sure you’re really getting enough, particularly if you are postmenopausal, I recommend supplementing with 200 -400 mg daily. It’s also vital to make sure you are taking Vitamin D (or getting tons of sun), because it helps with the absorption of calcium. I like supplements which contain a carefully measured dose of both to work in concert with each other. You can find many combo calcium/D supplements in the health food store, or check out this high quality supplement by one of my fave plant-based docs: Osteo-Biotect by Dr Fuhrman
So, let’s look at the foods we need to eat:
- Low-oxalate greens such as broccoli, bok choy, kale, watercress, and mustard/turnip/collard greens are great sources. It’s fine to cook them, and in many cases more nutrients are released and oxalates diminished with cooking. Plus who wants to eat raw turnip greens??
- Fortified non-dairy milks, tempeh, and tofu. We can absorb about 30- 32 % of the calcium in both of these. Make sure your tofu is certified organic!
- Tahini (from ground sesame seeds), almonds (soak overnight for better absorption), oranges, figs, and blackstrap molasses.
- Adzuki and Navy beans are also a good source of calcium.
- Your secret weapon against bone loss may well be the super food, Moringa. It contains 17 times more calcium than milk!!! Go figure. That’s insane. You can toss a teaspoon or two of Moringa powder into your morning smoothie and you are done. You can also sprinkle it on cereal or non-dairy yogurt, but I prefer it in a smoothie as it a teeny bit bitter.
So, now you know how to supplement, and which foods to eat, what about exercise? I cannot stress the important of weight-bearing exercise. On the lower end of the scale, this could be 40-60 minutes of brisk walking daily. And on the high end of the scale it would be doing high intensity training with weights. Either way, I would try to think about introducing some kind of weight into your daily routine. Grabbing a kettle bell is a quick and easy way to do this.