Calcium is primarily known as a mineral that contributes to the maintenance of bones and teeth. While dairy products and other animal products are often considered the primary sources of calcium, there are also many calcium-rich foods of plant origin. You can find corresponding calcium-rich foods with their respective calcium contents in the table displayed above. We will now delve a bit deeper into the food groups and how you can increase your calcium intake.
What is calcium needed for?
Calcium strengthens bones and teeth by giving them strength and structure. It also aids in muscle contraction, blood clotting, and transmission of signals between nerve cells.
Adequate consumption of calcium-rich foods can reduce the risk of osteoporosis later in life. Osteoporosis is a condition in which bones become porous and brittle, leading to an increased risk of fractures.
How much calcium per day?
The recommended daily requirement for calcium for adults is 1,000 mg per day. This can also be easily met with a balanced vegan diet. Additionally, if you want to increase your calcium intake, you should avoid low-calcium foods.
Athletes often have a higher need for calcium than average adults due to increased physical activity. Calcium is important for muscle contraction. Consequently, muscle cramps and injuries can also be prevented with the help of calcium. It can also aid in faster healing of bone fractures and injuries.
Athletes typically have higher calcium needs than non-athletes. This is because they put more strain on their bones through intense physical activities. Therefore, more calcium is required to keep the bones healthy and reduce the risk of fractures and other injuries. During sports and training, calcium is lost through sweat – approximately 40 mg per liter of sweat. If this loss is not replenished, it can lead to a deficiency that impairs athletic performance and increases the risk of injuries. Inadequate calcium intake can also cause muscle cramps and fatigue.
A calcium-rich diet can also be purely plant-based. The following list reveals some calcium-containing foods:
- Green leafy vegetables: According to the table, kale, broccoli, spinach, arugula, and cabbage are among the best sources of calcium. They are often even better sources than dairy products because they are also rich in other nutrients such as vitamin C, vitamin K, and iron. This table shows which vegetables contain calcium.
- Legumes: Beans, chickpeas, and lentils also contain high levels of calcium. In addition, they provide plenty of plant-based protein and fiber. You can check out legumes with high calcium content in this table.
- Nuts, seeds, and kernels: They contain relatively high amounts of calcium. Good examples with high calcium content include almonds, Brazil nuts, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, chia seeds, hazelnuts, walnuts, and pumpkin seeds. You can access the table of calcium in nuts, seeds, and kernels here.
- Fruits: Fruits are not a particularly good source of calcium. However, there are some fruit varieties that contain slightly higher amounts of calcium. Oranges, mandarins, figs, kiwis, blackberries, raspberries, and papayas provide higher levels of calcium according to the table. You can find the calcium-rich fruit table here.
- Grains: They contain less calcium compared to fruits. Notable examples of calcium-rich grain products include oatmeal, whole wheat bread, whole wheat pasta, and bulgur. In your calcium-rich diet, also include pseudocereals like quinoa and amaranth, which offer higher calcium content. You can access the table of calcium in grains here.
- Mushrooms: They are not particularly rich in calcium either. However, mushrooms such as champignons and chanterelles can still contribute a small amount towards meeting your daily calcium needs. This table provides calcium levels for mushrooms.
- Beverages: In a vegan diet, you can incorporate almond milk, green smoothies, coconut water, mineral water, and fruit juices like orange juice or pineapple juice as calcium-rich beverages. Additionally, there are some plant-based drinks fortified with calcium available for a calcium-rich diet.
- Herbs and spices: They are not only a great way to add flavor and aroma to your diet, but can also make a significant contribution to calcium intake. They have high calcium content. Very good sources of calcium are thyme, marjoram, dill, parsley, basil, rosemary, and oregano. On this page, you can check out herbs and spices that contain a lot of calcium in the table.
Improving Calcium Absorption from Food
There are various factors that can affect the absorption of calcium from the foods consumed. Some foods or substances can inhibit or enhance the absorption of calcium. The following are some tips that can help improve calcium absorption.
Vitamin D plays a crucial role in the absorption and utilization of calcium in the body. Without sufficient vitamin D, the body cannot effectively absorb and use calcium from food, which can lead to calcium deficiency. Vitamin D is needed for the formation of the protein calbindin, which transports calcium across the walls of the small intestine into the blood. If calbindin is missing or not sufficiently present, calcium cannot be absorbed in adequate amounts. Additionally, vitamin D also influences calcium regulation in the body by stimulating the release of calcium from bones and the absorption of calcium in the kidneys and intestines. The body produces vitamin D when the skin is exposed to sunlight. It can also be obtained through foods high in vitamin D.
There is evidence that lysine can improve calcium absorption by promoting the formation of calcium complexes in the intestine and increasing the absorption of calcium from the intestine into the body. Lysine is an essential amino acid involved in the formation of collagen, an important component of bones and connective tissue. You can find a list of lysine-rich foods here.
Prebiotic dietary fibers such as inulin and oligofructose can enhance calcium absorption. Prebiotics are indigestible carbohydrates that serve as food for beneficial gut bacteria, promoting the growth and activity of these bacteria. When these bacteria thrive and are active, they can lower the pH of the intestine and promote the release of calcium from food sources. Foods rich in inulin and oligofructose include onions, garlic, artichokes, asparagus, bananas, chicory, and Jerusalem artichokes.
Some substances can inhibit calcium absorption. These include oxalic acid found in spinach and rhubarb, and phytic acid found in whole grains and legumes. If possible, consumption of these foods should be limited when aiming to improve calcium absorption. Oxalic acid and phytic acid are known as antinutrients that can inhibit calcium absorption in the intestine. Oxalic acid binds to calcium, forming calcium oxalate, which cannot be absorbed by the body. Phytic acid can also bind to calcium and be excreted as indigestible calcium phytate. Soaking can reduce the levels of phytic acid, thus improving calcium absorption. Heating calcium-rich foods can also reduce the effects of oxalic acid and phytic acid, as they can be destroyed by heat.
What does a calcium-rich diet look like?
If you want to increase your calcium intake, you can incorporate many plant-based calcium-rich foods into your diet. Here are some examples:
- Smoothie with kale, banana, almond milk, and chia seeds
- Broccoli salad with arugula, almonds, and sesame dressing
- Spinach quiche with tofu and tomatoes
- Sautéed tofu cubes with broccoli and sesame
- Oatmeal porridge with soy milk, apple, and poppy seeds
- Whole grain bread with hummus, avocado, and sesame
- Oven-roasted vegetables with sweet potatoes, broccoli, chickpeas, and almonds
- Tofu scramble with bell pepper, zucchini, and pumpkin seeds
- Smoothie bowl with berries, almond milk, flaxseeds, and oats
- Vegetable curry with chickpeas and coconut milk
- Lentil soup with kale and cilantro
- Quinoa salad with sautéed tofu, avocado, and walnuts
- Vegan pizza with broccoli, mushrooms, and vegan cheese
- Stir-fried rice with vegetables and cashews