One of the most common questions people have is regarding the ability of plant-based nutrients to provide adequate calcium. It often deters them from adopting a vegan lifestyle. Let us look at the facts about calcium through plant-based foods to address this.
The UK adult reference nutrient intake for calcium is 700mg. For those with osteoporosis, coeliac disease, and inflammatory bowel disease it is increased to at least 1000mg, for post-menopausal women it is 1200mg and breast-feeding women 1250mg.
Achieving these increased requirements can be more challenging on a plant-based diet, as although legumes and leafy greens contain reasonable amounts, the oxalates and phytates contained in many of these foods reduce the absorption. It is possible to increase the availability by soaking and sprouting grains and legumes but, time constraints may hinder this. For this reason, additional calcium supplementation needs should be assessed on an individual basis following a dietary assessment.
Calcium fact sheet
|Food and portion size||Calcium content (mg)|
|Avocado (1/3 50g)||6|
|Sunflower seeds (30g)||35|
|Calcium set tofu (80g)||280|
|Nigari set tofu||150|
|Baked beans (150g)||63|
|Fortified plant milk (200mls)||240*|
|Fortified plant yoghurt (125g)||150*|
|Almond butter (30g)||113|
|1 dried fig (20g)||50|
|Fortified breakfast cereal (30g)||130-150*|
|Wholemeal bread – 2 large slices (100g)||54|
Variations may occur between brands, please check.
Practical ways to increase your calcium intake
- Drizzle 1tbsp of tahini over baked veg
- Aim for two portions of fortified soy daily – 200mls soya milk in porridge/on fortified breakfast cereal plus 80g calcium set tofu will provide approximately 520-650mg calcium
- Try a sliced apple drizzled with 30g almond butter – total 120g calcium (incl the apple)
- Make a mashed chickpea and avocado sandwich for lunch – total 122mg
- Enjoy a warming mug of homemade cocoa with fortified milk – 156mg (if using cacao)
Example menu to achieve general calcium requirements (approximate values)
Breakfast – Porridge made with fortified milk, topped with 30g mixed seeds and 6 almonds = 306mg
Lunch – Beans on toast = 117mg
Dinner – Marinaded tofu served with baked veg and a portion of green leafy veg = 370mg
Total = 793mg
For those needing higher intakes, add:
1 chopped dried fig to your porridge = 50mg
1 fortified yoghurt = 150mg
1 snack of chopped fruit drizzled with almond butter = 120mg
Drizzle baked veg with 30g tahini = 110mg
Total = 1223mg
Lactose intolerance: This occurs when the body is unable to break down lactose, the milk sugar found in dairy. In the UK, thought to affect between 1-2 in 10 people. It is more common in people of Asian or African-Caribbean descent and globally, 70% of the world’s population is lactose intolerant. Symptoms include bloating, diarrhoea, flatulence, nausea, and abdominal pain/cramps.