Most of us have been brought up to believe that we need cow’s milk for calcium, but as Viva! shows us, there are plenty of vegan sources of calcium to keep our teeth and bones healthy.
Most of us have been brought up to believe that we need cow’s milk for calcium and that if we refuse to drink it, our teeth and bones will crumble. Common sense suggests that this is not the case since not all people across the world subscribe to the practice of suckling from cows and their bones are fine. However, decades of the dairy industry’s extensive marketing and advertising have had a worrying effect, so even some health professionals believe it to be true.
What’s calcium and why do we need it?
Calcium is an important mineral that helps to form and maintain our teeth and bones and is necessary for muscle contraction, nerve transmission, signalling within cells and hormone formation. And when it comes to bones, it’s not only used to build and repair bones – the skeleton also serves as a calcium reservoir for all the other body functions and, if a need arises, your body draws on the calcium reserves in the bones.
How much do we need?
According to the UK health recommendations, we need 700mg per day.
These foods would provide you with around 700mg of calcium in a day: a bowl of porridge or muesli, a small handful of almonds and a few dried figs as a snack, a couple of cups of tea or coffee with calcium-enriched plant milk, two slices of wholemeal bread, a serving of beans and a serving of kale.
Best plant sources of calcium are:
- Sesame seeds
- Tahini (sesame seed sauce)
- Chia seeds
- Green leafy vegetables (kale, broccoli, watercress, spring greens)
- Wholemeal or granary bread
- Fortified plant milks
And although a regular and sufficient calcium intake is essential, it’s highly questionable whether calcium intakes above the recommended amount can offer any benefit at all. Excessive calcium intakes (from dairy products and supplements) can even increase the risk of fractures and some of the calcium may be deposited in other tissues (eg, the kidneys) and cause problems such as kidney stones. Once the intake surpasses 2,000mg per day, the risk of harm increases.
Good to know
You need vitamin D for your body to be able to absorb and use calcium properly. Just 20 minutes of exposure to sunlight on the face and arms is all that is required by the body to manufacture vitamin D (unless you’re using sun-block). However, some countries, including the UK, don’t get enough sunlight over the winter months and it’s recommended to supplement vitamin D regardless of your diet, from October to April. If you always use sunblock, it’s advisable that you take a supplement all year long (make sure it’s vegan-friendly).
Viva!Health is a part of the vegan charity Viva!. Veronika is a compaigner and researcher here. Viva!Health monitors scientific research linking diet to health and provides accurate information on which you can make informed choices about the food you eat. For details, visit vivahealth.org.uk