Heather Russell from The Vegan Society helps you solve the vegan calcium conundrum…
How to ensure you’re getting enough calcium on a vegan diet
Hit a daily calcium target
Some people worry that a vegan diet leads to calcium deficiency. In reality, it’s easy to get enough calcium if you know the best plant-based alternatives to dairy. It’s time to bust the myth that cows’ milk is essential for calcium.
Why does it matter?
You might have heard that calcium helps to keep your bones and teeth strong. It’s also involved in your nervous system, blood clotting and controlling your muscles.
How much do you need?
In the UK, it’s recommended that adults aim for a daily calcium target of 700mg (milligrams), but what does this mean in terms of everyday foods? It’s handy to know that calcium-fortified plant milk contains the same amount of calcium as cows’ milk.
Looking at the list below, you’ll notice that calcium-set tofu and calcium-fortified foods contain the most calcium. Don’t panic if you’ve never heard of calcium-set tofu. Simply look for the word calcium in the list of ingredients. Check the nutritional information on soya and linseed bread for evidence of extra calcium fortification.
Are you getting enough?
The best way to hit your target every day is to eat at least two servings of foods rich in calcium. Each of the following contains about a third of your daily calcium requirement:
200ml (7fl oz) calcium-fortified plant milk; 200g (7oz) calcium-fortified soya yoghurt; 70g (2½oz) calcium-set tofu (uncooked weight); 2 slices soya and linseed bread fortified with calcium
Boost your calcium intake further by including whole food sources in your daily diet, including kale, pak choi, okra, spring greens, dried figs, chia seeds and almonds.
What’s the vitamin D link?
Vitamin D is involved in controlling the amount of calcium in our bodies; it helps you absorb calcium from food. In the UK, vitamin D supplementation is recommended during autumn and winter as a minimum, and year-round it’s advised for some, including people who do not regularly expose their skin to sunlight, and those with darker skin.
The recommended daily dose is 10 micrograms. Remember that vitamin D3 in supplements usually comes from wool fat; vitamin D3 from lichen and vitamin D2 are vegan-friendly.
- Muesli, mixed fresh fruit, chopped walnuts and a generous dollop of calcium-fortified soya yoghurt.
- Extra tip: Look for muesli with no added sugar, and be aware that some varieties contain dairy.
- Houmous and salad between soya and linseed bread fortified with extra calcium, and a couple of satsumas too.
- Extra tip: The vitamin C in satsumas helps your body to absorb the iron in this meal.
- Chickpea and sweet potato curry with brown rice, and kale on the side.
- Extra tip: Greens, such as cabbage, kale, spring greens and broccoli, are good sources of vitamin K, and sweet potato provides carotenoids, which our bodies make into vitamin A.
- 200ml (7fl oz) calcium-fortified plant milk in tea.
- Extra tip: It’s best to drink tea and coffee between meals, because they can have a negative impact on iron absorption.
Calcium-set tofu, soya and linseed bread fortified with extra calcium, calcium-fortified plant milk and calcium-fortified soya yoghurt are some of the richest plant-based sources of calcium. Eating these foods at least twice a day will help you to hit your daily calcium target. Boost your calcium intake further by eating kale, pak choi, okra, spring greens, dried figs, chia seeds and almonds. Use a vitamin D supplement during autumn and winter as a minimum.
For more about vegan nutrition, check out the resources at vegansociety.com/nutrition
About the author
Heather Russell is passionate about eating well and keeping fit. She trained to be a dietitian to combine her love of science with a desire to help people, and she loves food! She worked in the NHS from 2010-16, and is now using her dietetic skills to support the work of The Vegan Society.