You probably know that you don’t need to consume animal-based dairy to get enough calcium. But do you know how to meet your calcium needs as a vegan?
The truth is, just because you can get enough calcium as a vegan doesn’t mean it’s effortless.
As a vegan registered dietitian, I feel that it’s super important to be honest and straightforward about vegan nutrition.
What I mean by that is, it’s unhelpful to tell people that they don’t need to think about nutrition as a vegan, or that they’ll automatically get enough nutrients just by eating plant foods or just by eating enough calories.
The truth is it does take some knowledge and intention to meet your nutrient needs — whether or not you’re vegan!
I prefer to empower vegans with nutrition knowledge so they know how to meet their nutrient needs, rather than spread misinformation that contributes to vegans winding up with deficiencies and health consequences down the road.
So let’s talk about one of the common nutrients that folks may have some concern about when it comes to vegan eating: calcium.
This concern is not unfounded. Research has found that vegans tend to have lower calcium intakes than non-vegans, and that sometimes is associated with greater bone fracture risk.
Most people know that calcium is important for bone health but did you know it also plays a role in muscle contractions, blood clotting, nerve transmission and more?
Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body and we need 1,000 milligrams of it a day! Our bones are constantly turning over (being broken down and rebuilt), and if we aren’t consuming enough calcium, our bodies will take calcium from our bones to stabilize the calcium levels in our blood and elsewhere in our bodies.
This is why not eating enough calcium can lead to weak bones, increased risk of fracture, and eventually lead to osteoporosis.
But that doesn’t mean you need to start gobbling down loads of calcium supplements. In fact, consuming too much calcium from supplements can cause kidney stones and heart problems.
Dietary supplements have a place, and can be particularly helpful in meeting calcium requirements, but you also can (and should) get calcium from plant-based foods and fortified foods and beverages!
5 Ways to Get Vegan Calcium
No dairy? No problem! There are many sources of plant-based calcium. Here are five of the top ways to get calcium as a vegan.
Eat Calcium-Rich Greens Daily
One way to get some guaranteed calcium in your day is to make calcium-rich greens a regular part of your meals! Kale, collard greens, turnip greens and mustard greens are good options because they’re low in oxalate, a naturally-occurring plant compound that can inhibit calcium absorption.
Bok choy contains less calcium, but is low in oxalate, making it a good calcium choice as well.
Spinach, on the other hand, contains calcium, but it also has a high amount of oxalate, so we don’t consider spinach a good source of calcium because we aren’t absorbing much.
Cook up some calcium-rich greens and add to bowls, soups, stews, pastas and more. They also make a tasty side dish — especially when sautéed in olive oil with fresh garlic!
Choose Calcium-Fortified Plant Milks
If you’re already drinking plant milk, make a point to select a calcium-fortified variety! This is a pretty easy way to get a hearty dose of calcium.
Many brands of calcium-fortified plant milk contain 20% to 30% of your daily calcium needs.
Don’t assume that all plant milks are fortified with calcium — read the Nutrition Facts label on the product and see for yourself!
Just remember that a full cup is a serving of plant milk, so if you’re just adding a splash into your coffee once a day, you’re not getting much calcium from that.
Some plant-based yogurts are also fortified with calcium. Check the label and see what’s available at your market.
While calcium-fortified orange juice is commonly available in the U.S., it usually is also fortified with non-vegan vitamin D.
Opt for Calcium-Set Tofu
Did you know that calcium (often in the form of calcium sulfate) is sometimes used in the tofu-making process to help it solidify? Pretty neat. That makes calcium-set tofu another good source of calcium.
Just like plant milks, don’t assume that your tofu contains calcium. Check the Nutrition Facts label and see if any brands carried at your local market contain calcium.
Not sure what to do with tofu? My favorite way to make tofu is by seasoning it with nutritional yeast, garlic powder, salt and pepper and pan-frying or baking! It’s simple, tasty and versatile.
Regularly Eat Tempeh, Almonds and Tahini
While calcium-fortified milks, calcium-set tofu, and select leafy greens are the superstars of plant-based calcium, other plant foods contribute important amounts of calcium too!
Tempeh is a fermented soy food that is rich in protein and is a good source of calcium. Almonds and almond butter deliver a nice dose of calcium and tahini supplies a bit as well.
Calcium from these foods adds up throughout the day and can help you meet your needs.
Click here for a long list of calcium and oxalate content of foods.
Use Calcium Supplements Wisely
There is absolutely no shame in using dietary supplements to help you close the gap and meet your nutrient needs.
However, more is not better, especially when it comes to calcium.
Taking a modest calcium supplement is perfectly OK. But taking high doses long-term has been associated with health issues.
So, try meeting most of your calcium needs through foods and fortified foods and beverages, and go ahead and cover that last little bit (~300 milligrams) through a supplement if you need to!
Read this for more on calcium supplement safety.
Examples of Daily Calcium Intake for Vegans
Want to see some real-life examples of how a vegan could get enough calcium? Check out these three different scenarios!
You can see how intentional you’d have to be to meet your calcium needs entirely through food without any fortified foods or supplements. Most vegans I know are not dedicating that much attention to their food – and that’s OK! For many folks that would require a lot of stress and micromanaging of food.
There is nothing wrong with using fortified foods and a modest supplement to help you meet your calcium needs!
Keep in mind the examples below are just highlighting foods that contain a decent amount of calcium and are in no way depicting complete meals, snacks or days of eating. Additionally, other foods will contribute smaller amounts of calcium that can add up throughout the day to help you meet your needs.
Also remember that calcium amounts in fortified foods vary – be sure to check the label of the fortified foods you’re choosing to ensure that they have plenty of calcium, or at least as much as you think they do!
Vegan Calcium from Food Alone
2 tablespoons almond butter (111 mg) and 2 tablespoons ground flaxseed (36 mg) at breakfast
4 dried figs (54 mg) and ¼ cup almonds (96 mg) at morning snack
1 cup tempeh (184 mg), 1 cup cooked broccoli (62 mg), 1 tbsp tahini (64 mg) at lunch
1 navel orange (60 mg) and ½ cup soy nuts (65 mg) at afternoon snack
1 cup cooked black beans (84 mg), 1 cup cooked kale (177 mg), 2 corn tortillas (40mg) at dinner
Total calcium: 1,033 mg
Vegan Calcium from Food and Fortified Foods
1 cup calcium-fortified plant milk (450 mg) at breakfast
1 navel orange (60 mg) at morning snack
1 cup cooked broccoli (62 mg) at lunch
1 cup calcium-fortified plant yogurt (260 mg) at afternoon snack
1 cup sautéed collard greens (268 mg) at dinner
Total calcium: 1,100 mg
Vegan Calcium from Food, Fortified Foods, and Supplements
Calcium supplement (300 mg) at breakfast
2 tablespoons chia seeds (54 mg) and 1 cup calcium-fortified milk (450 mg) at morning snack
½ cup calcium-set tofu (110 mg) at lunch
1 cup sautéed bok choy (158 mg) at dinner
Total calcium: 1,072 mg
All nutrient amounts are from USDA FoodData Central and food labels.
Learn More About Vegan Nutrition
Did you appreciate this information about plant-based calcium? You can access similar content about other essential nutrients in my vegan nutrition course! Click here to learn more and see what’s included.