Calcium is one of the first things any vegan gets asked about, usually directly after, So, what exactly do you eat? It only seems right, then, that we have a list of calcium facts right here on our site.
Arming yourself with the knowledge that follows will allow you to fend off those inevitable questions from well-meaning friends and family. It’ll also make it easier for you to explain why dairy really isn’t the calcium be-all-and-end-all the advertisers have led us to believe it is.
Shall we start? Let’s go!
Calcium fact #1: How much calcium do we really need?
A common misconception is that we need lots and lots of calcium every single day, but that isn’t strictly true.
The current guidelines vary depending on whereabouts in the world you live, which is nuts straight off the bat.
For example, if you follow the UK’s National Health Service recommendations you would be aiming for around 700mg per day as an average adult.
However, if you took a flight across the Atlantic and landed on American soil, your daily recommended intake would shoot up to 1,000mg!
The truth is that there is no magic figure that suits everyone’s needs exactly. Why? Well, it largely comes down to the other stuff that you eat as part of your regular diet.
You see, a diet rich in animal protein has a much higher excretion rate than that of someone who maintains a whole food, plant-based diet. This means that if you are eating a lot of animal protein, then the amount of calcium that you need increases too.
Following a healthy vegan diet (again, that’s a whole food, plant-based diet, not one loaded with potato chips and Oreos!) means that you actually need far less calcium than is widely recommended.
A study was conducted by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition looked into calcium requirements a few years back, and it found that subjects who had “low, but nutritionally adequate, intakes of sodium and protein may have calcium requirements as low as 500 to 741mg per day.”
Therefore, one size fits all guidelines don’t really cut it when it comes to how much calcium each of us needs to maintain a healthy body. Some will need very little, while others may even need the help of calcium supplements.
For more information on plant-based nutrition, click here
Calcium fact #2: We don’t absorb nearly as much calcium as we ingest
Another thing about setting recommended daily calcium amounts that are supposed to suit everyone is that what we eat or drink isn’t necessarily what our bodies get.
Certain foods may be very high in calcium, but their absorption rate is terrible, meaning that our bodies find it extremely difficult to draw out the calcium from the product itself.
A good example of this is…
That’s right, the white stuff isn’t all it’s cracked up to be when it comes to getting calcium into our bodies.
Just 3.33 cups of cow’s milk will have you hit the US guidelines for recommended calcium daily intake, but only 30 per cent of that (300mg) is actually absorbable by our bodies.
Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, kale, etc., on the other hand, have a much higher absorption rate, one that can hit around 60 per cent in some instances!
This fact leads us nicely on to our next one, which is…
Calcium fact #3: A plant-based diet can easily give you all the calcium you need
Ask the question, What foods contain the most calcium? and you’ll get the same answers 99 per cent of the time – milk and dairy products.
While it may be true that these products are indeed high in calcium, the vast majority of the population will stop once they’ve been named – they simply do not know that calcium can be obtained from numerous other sources, too.
We won’t go into the reasons why this miseducation of the masses exists here today, but we will point out that you can get ample amounts of calcium by following a plant-based diet that consists largely of whole foods.
The fact is that much of the calcium found in dairy products comes from plants originally anyway. Think about it, how many adults cows do you see drinking milk?
By adopting a plant-based diet, you’re simply cutting out the middleman. Or should that be middlecow?
Furthermore, our bodies are able to adjust quite quickly to periods where calcium may be at a premium. When our diets lack calcium the body will become more efficient in absorbing the mineral from our food and it also figures out that we may need to keep some in reserve, so our kidneys start to do a better job of conserving calcium for later use.
The same is true when we up our intake of calcium, the body simply adjusts to cope with what is happening at that specific time. Our kidneys will work harder to offload the excess while our intestines will begin blocking the absorption of the mineral instead of allowing it into our bodies.
Obviously, too long at either end of the spectrum is not advisable, but the truth remains that if you are eating a healthy vegan diet (i.e. one that is meeting your calorific needs) the chances of you becoming calcium deficient are effectively zero.
CHECK OUT OUR LIST OF 35 CALCIUM-RICH PLANT FOODS
Calcium fact #4: Calcium doesn’t just help your bones and teeth
Bones, bones, bones. Oh, and teeth, mustn’t forget those gnashers!
It’s drummed into us from an early age: calcium is all about bone and dental health, right?
Wrong. Of course, calcium is essential to good bone and dental health (in fact, around 99 per cent of all calcium in our bodies is found in our bones and teeth), but it doesn’t stop there. Calcium helps us in other ways, too.
It helps our nerves send their messages and makes our muscles contract. It even helps our blood to clot when it needs to.
Plus, calcium helps with our intake of other nutrients as well, and it’s also necessary for the secretion of enzymes and hormones.
All in all, calcium is an essential mineral for a fit and healthy body.
Calcium fact #5: We’re constantly losing this precious mineral
Yep, just when we tell you how vital calcium is we follow it up with this devastating news. Sorry about that.
We tend to lose more calcium as we age, and some studies suggest that we lose more while we are sleeping than during times when we are awake. The report also showed that women experience greater levels of calcium loss during this time than men, thought to be because of the difference between the genders parathyroid (PTH) production levels whilst sleeping. (1)
While there’s not a lot we can do about the natural losses that our bodies go through every day, there are some things that you can be mindful of in order to minimise the amount of calcium loss your body suffers:
- Excess sodium – Too much sodium in our diet can lead to greater calcium loss than we’d like. For every teaspoon of table salt (6g) that we excrete, we’ll lose around 95 to 145mg of calcium along with it. (2)
- Too much caffeine – Caffeine acts as a diuretic and as we pass urine calcium leaves our bodies as well. For every 100mg of caffeine you take in, roughly around 6mg of calcium will be lost. (3)
- Smoking – Still smoking? Seriously, how many reasons do you need to quit? Well, here’s another; smoking causes calcium loss and affects your body’s ability to make bones efficiently.
- Not enough vitamin D – Without adequate vitamin D, our bodies find it difficult to absorb calcium effectively. Find out how to get enough vitamin D here.
Now there’s five calcium facts that you can hit back with whenever your anyone asks you the inevitable calcium question!
If you have any calcium facts you’d like to add to the list, share them with us in the comments sections below.
About The Author:
David Bedford is a longtime vegan with a particular interest in nutrition and mental health. He is also a co-founder of happyhappyvegan.com.
When he isn’t sifting through PubMed or watching Dr. Greger do his thing, he’ll be banging away at a keyboard producing either copy or code. On the rare occasion when a screen isn’t in front of him, you’ll find David walking in the nearest available green space with his four-legged sidekick, Ralphie.
- Mona S Calvo, Lang Yang, Kenneth P. Offord, Eric Bergstralh | Circadian Variation in Ionized Calcium and Intact Parathyroid Hormone: Evidence for Sex Differences in Calcium Homeostasis | https://www.researchgate.net/publication/21170037_Circadian_Variation_in_Ionized_Calcium_and_Intact_Parathyroid_Hormone_Evidence_for_Sex_Differences_in_Calcium_Homeostasis
- University of Alberta Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry | Diets high in salt could deplete calcium in the body | https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/07/120724131604.htm
- Elizabeth M. Ward, MS, RD | Osteoporosis Diet Dangers: Foods to Avoid | https://www.webmd.com/osteoporosis/features/diet-dangers?page=3