Calcium Getting Enough

Calcium—you know it best as a bone builder. Calcium also helps muscles contract; transfers nerve impulses; helps your blood clot; helps your heart beat; and for kids, builds healthy teeth, among its many tasks. If you're a vegetarian, how can you consume enough?

Vegetarians who consume dairy products have excellent calcium sources in their daily eating plan: milk, cheese, and yogurt. The equivalent of 3 cups of milk daily contributes much of the calcium advised by the Dietary Reference Intakes—for many people.

Vegans can get enough calcium from plant foods and calcium-fortified foods. But it may take more planning. Vegans may not need quite as much calcium, as some studies suggest. The typically high-protein diet of nonvegetarians actually may increase calcium's excretion through urine; in contrast, soy protein may decrease calcium excretion, perhaps due to its lower sulfur amino acid content.

If you're a vegan, what's the calcium advice? Currently, consume the level established in the DRI for your age group—for example, 1,000 milligrams of calcium per day is an Adequate Intake if you're age nineteen to fifty (more if you're a teenager or over age fifty). You'll need enough vitamin D to help your body absorb and use the calcium you consume effectively. If you can't consume enough calcium from food, a supplement probably makes sense for you.

Which foods of plant origin supply calcium?

  • Try tofu and tempeh processed with calcium, calcium-fortified soy or rice beverages, broccoli, almonds, soybeans, some greens (kale, collards, mustard greens), okra, rutabaga, bok choy, dried figs, tortillas (made from slaked lime-processed corn), and calcium-fortified juice, bread, cereal bars, and cereal. These grain products may not be vegan.
  • Beet greens, rhubarb, spinach, Swiss chard, and a grain called amaranth supply calcium, but your body cannot use it. These foods contain oxalates that bind calcium, blocking its absorption. Some grain products also contain small amounts of calcium, but they may contain phytates that block calcium absorption.

See "Calcium: A Closer Look" in chapter 4. For food "prep," see "Calcium Boosters" in chapter 13.

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