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Vegan calcium sources

Top 10 vegan sources of calcium

Calcium plays crucial roles in your body, but a vegan diet may make it more difficult to meet your needs for this mineral. Here are the top 10 vegan foods high in calcium.

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Top 10 vegan sources of calcium
Last updated on October 10, 2023, and last reviewed by an expert on April 4, 2023.

Calcium plays a crucial role in your body.

Top 10 vegan sources of calcium

It’s well known for its ability to build and maintain your bones. Yet, this mineral is also important for muscle contraction, blood pressure regulation, nerve transmission, and blood clotting.

The recommended daily intake is 1,000 mg per day for adults. This shoots up to 1,200 mg for those over 50 and 1,300 for children ages 4–18.

Still, a large percentage of people don’t meet these recommendations. This includes many who avoid eating animal products and dairy — though many plant foods contain this mineral.

Here are the top 10 vegan foods high in calcium.

1. Soy foods

Soybeans are naturally rich in calcium.

One cup (175 grams) of cooked soybeans provides 18.5% of the recommended daily intake, whereas the same quantity of immature soybeans — known as edamame — offers around 27.6%.

Foods made from soybeans, such as tofu, tempeh, and natto, are also rich in this mineral. Tofu made with calcium phosphate contains 350 mg per 3.5 ounces (100 grams).

Tempeh and natto — made from fermented soybeans — also provide good amounts. One 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving of tempeh covers around 11% of the recommended daily intake, whereas natto offers about twice that amount.

Minimally processed soy foods are also a great source of fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Plus, they’re one of the rare plant foods considered a complete source of protein.

That’s because soybeans offer good amounts, while most plant foods are low in at least one of the nine essential amino acids.

Summary: Soybeans and soy-based foods are great sources of calcium. They also offer complete protein, fiber, and an array of other vitamins and minerals.

2. Beans, peas, and lentils

In addition to being rich in fiber and protein, beans and lentils are good sources of calcium.

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The varieties providing the highest levels of this mineral per cooked cup (about 175 grams) include:

Moreover, beans and lentils are rich in other nutrients, including iron, zinc, potassium, magnesium, and folate. However, they also contain antinutrients like phytates and lectins, which lower your body’s ability to absorb other nutrients.

Soaking, sprouting, and fermenting beans and lentils can reduce antinutrient levels, making them more absorbable.

Moreover, diets rich in beans, peas, and lentils lower LDL (bad) cholesterol and decrease your risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and premature death.

Summary: Beans, peas, and lentils contain decent amounts of calcium and are great sources of protein and fiber. Soaking, sprouting, or fermenting them can improve nutrient absorption.

3. Certain nuts

All nuts contain small amounts of calcium, but almonds are especially rich — providing 97 mg per 1/4 cup (35 grams), or about 10% of the recommended daily intake.

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Brazil nuts are second to almonds, providing around 6% of the recommended daily intake per 1/4 cup (35 grams). In contrast, walnuts, pistachios, hazelnuts, and macadamia nuts provide between 2–3% of the recommended daily intake for the same quantity.

Nuts are also good sources of fiber, healthy fats, and protein. What’s more, they’re rich in antioxidants and contain good amounts of B vitamins, magnesium, copper, potassium, and selenium, as well as vitamins E and K.

Eating nuts regularly may help you lose weight, lower your blood pressure, and reduce risk factors for metabolic diseases, such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Summary: Nuts are a good source of calcium. One-quarter cup (35 grams) helps you meet between 2–10% of the recommended daily intake, depending on the type of nut.

4. Seeds

Seeds and their kinds of butter are also good sources of calcium, but the amount they contain depends on the variety.

Tahini — a butter made from sesame seeds — contains the most, providing 130 mg per 2 tablespoons (30 ml) — or 13% of the recommended daily intake. The same quantity (20 grams) of sesame seeds only provides 2% of the recommended daily intake.

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Chia and flax seeds also contain decent amounts, providing around 5–6% of the recommended daily intake per 2 tablespoons (20–25 grams).

Like nuts, seeds provide fiber, protein, healthy fats, vitamins, minerals, and beneficial plant compounds. Plus, they’re linked to health benefits, such as reduced inflammation, blood sugar levels, and risk factors for heart disease.

Summary: Certain seeds or their butter varieties can provide up to 13% of the recommended daily intake for calcium. Like nuts, seeds are also rich in healthy fats, protein, and fiber. What’s more, they may protect against a variety of diseases.

5. Some grains

Grains aren’t typically thought of as a source of calcium. Yet, some varieties contain significant amounts of this mineral.

For example, amaranth and teff — two gluten-free ancient grains — provide around 12% of the recommended daily intake per cooked cup (250 grams).

Both are rich in fiber and can be incorporated into various dishes.

Teff can be made into a porridge or added to chili, while amaranth provides an easy substitute for rice or couscous. Both can be ground into flour and used to thicken soups and sauces.

Summary: Some grains provide significant amounts of calcium. For example, amaranth and teff pack around 12–15% of the recommended daily intake. They’re also rich in fiber and can be incorporated into various meals.

6. Seaweed

Adding seaweed to your diet is another way to increase calcium intake.

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Wakame — a variety typically eaten raw — provides around 126 mg or 12% of the recommended daily intake per cup (80 grams). You can find it in most Asian supermarkets or sushi restaurants.

Kelp, which can be eaten raw or dried, is another popular option. One cup (80 grams) of raw kelp — which you can add to salads and main dishes — provides around 14% of the recommended daily intake. Dried kelp flakes can also be used as a seasoning.

That said, seaweed may also contain high levels of heavy metals. Some varieties, such as kelp, can contain excessively large amounts of iodine per portion.

While iodine is needed for the proper function of your thyroid gland, getting too much can be harmful. For these reasons, seaweed shouldn’t be consumed too often or in large quantities.

Summary: Some types of seaweed are rich in calcium. However, some seaweed may also contain heavy metals and excessively high levels of iodine, which can have negative health effects.

7. Certain vegetables and leafy greens

Some vegetables — especially bitter ones like dark leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables — are rich in calcium.

For instance, spinach, bok choy, turnip, mustard, and collard greens provide 84–142 mg per cooked 1/2 cup (70–95 grams, depending on the variety) — or 8–14% of the recommended daily intake.

Other calcium-rich vegetables include okra, kale, cabbage, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts. These provide around 3–6% of the recommended daily intake per cooked 1/2 cup (60–80 grams).

That said, vegetables also contain variable levels of antinutrients, such as oxalates. Oxalates can bind to calcium in your gut, making it more difficult for your body to absorb.

Studies show that your body may only absorb 5% of the calcium in some high-oxalate vegetables.

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This is why low- and moderate-oxalate vegetables like turnip greens, broccoli, and kale are considered better sources than higher-oxalate vegetables, such as spinach, beet greens, and Swiss chard.

Boiling is one way to reduce oxalate levels by 30–87%. Interestingly, it appears to be more effective than steaming or baking.

Summary: Low- and medium-oxalate vegetables, such as turnip greens, broccoli, and kale, are a source of calcium that your body can easily absorb. Boiling them will further boost absorption.

8. Some fruit

Some varieties of fruit contain good amounts of calcium.

For instance, raw figs provide 18 mg — or close to 2% of the recommended daily intake — per fig. Dried figs offer slightly less at around 13 mg per fig.

Oranges are another somewhat high-calcium fruit. Depending on the variety, they contain around 48–65 mg or 5–7% of the recommended daily intake per medium-sized fruit.

Blackcurrants, blackberries, and raspberries round off this list.

Blackcurrants pack around 65 mg of calcium per cup (110 grams), or around 7% of the recommended daily intake, whereas blackberries and raspberries provide 32–44 mg per cup (145 grams and 125 grams).

In addition to calcium, these fruits also offer a good dose of fiber, vitamin C, and an array of other vitamins and minerals.

Summary: Figs, oranges, blackcurrants, and blackberries are worth adding to your diet. They’re fruits with the highest amounts of easily absorbable calcium.

9. Fortified foods and drinks

Some foods and drinks have calcium added during the manufacturing process. They’re another good way to add this mineral to your diet.

Foods fortified in calcium include plant yogurts and some types of cereal. Flour and cornmeal are sometimes enriched with this mineral, so some baked goods, including bread, crackers, or tortillas, contain large amounts.

Fortified drinks like plant milk and orange juice can also add calcium to your diet.

For instance, 1 cup (240 ml) of fortified plant milk, regardless of the type, typically provides around 30% of the recommended daily intake — or 300 mg of highly absorbable calcium. On the other hand, 1 cup (240 ml) of fortified orange juice usually covers up to 50% of your daily requirements.

In particular, soy milk is a great alternative to cow’s milk, as it contains about the same quantity of protein — or 7 grams per cup (240 ml).

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Remember that not all plant milk is fortified, so check the label before buying.

Summary: Foods and drinks fortified with calcium include plant milk and yogurts, flour, cornmeal, orange juice, and some types of cereal. It’s best to check the label to see how much each food contains.

10. Blackstrap molasses

Blackstrap molasses is a sweetener with a nutritional punch.

It’s made from sugar cane that has been boiled three times. Unlike sugar, it contains several vitamins and minerals, including 179 mg of calcium — or 18% of the recommended daily intake — per tablespoon (15 ml).

The nutrients in 1 tablespoon (15 ml) of blackstrap molasses can also help cover around 5–15% of your daily requirements for iron, selenium, vitamin B6, magnesium, and manganese.

That said, blackstrap molasses remains very high in sugar, so you should eat it in moderation.

Summary: Blackstrap molasses is high in sugar but contains various vitamins and minerals. One tablespoon (15 ml) covers around 18% of your daily calcium needs.

Summary

Calcium is important for the health of your bones and muscles and your circulatory and nervous systems. Yet many people fail to get enough of this nutrient, including vegans.

Dairy is often thought of as the only source of this mineral. However, it’s also naturally present in various plant foods — from grains and legumes to fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. You’ll even find it in seaweed and blackstrap molasses.

What’s more, several foods are fortified with this nutrient. Thus, variety is key when trying to meet your calcium needs on a vegan diet.

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