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12 Best Plant-Based Sources of Calcium

Greenletes / Sports Nutrition / Plant-based Athletes / 12 Best Plant-Based Sources of Calcium

These 12 healthy plant-based foods are high in calcium. Include these vegan sources of calcium in your diet for strong bones!

From a young age, you’ve been taught that calcium is synonymous with dairy. And while that’s true, you can still get calcium in a plant-based diet. 

Although calcium is most abundant in milk, yogurt and cheese, you can get calcium from plant sources too. Make sure you’re eating these foods regularly to ensure you’re taking in enough of this bone-building mineral on a plant-based diet.

What is calcium?

Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body, making up a large portion of bones, nails and teeth. It plays a significant role in muscle contraction, brain signaling and blood flow and clotting. 

Most notably, calcium (and Vitamin D) is found in the bones. As you age, the bones deteriorate, making calcium intake essential for skeletal health. Approximately 10 million Americans are diagnosed with osteoporosis, while another 44 million have low bone mineral density. 

The good news is that taking in enough calcium throughout your lifetime can prevent an osteoporosis diagnosis. 

How much do you need each day?

The recommended daily intake for calcium is between 1,000 and 1,200 milligrams per day for adults, depending on age.

Men and women up to the age of 50 should eat 1,000 milligrams of calcium per day. After 50, the recommendation increases to 1200 milligrams per day for both men and women. 

What are the symptoms of low calcium levels? 

Here are some of the most common symptoms that accompany low calcium levels (or hypocalcemia): 

  • Numbness or tingling in the fingers 
  • Muscle cramps 
  • Muscle Weakness 
  • Abnormal heart rate 
  • Loss in appetite 

Why is calcium important for athletes? 

A calcium deficiency puts athletes at greater risk for low-bone mineral density and stress fractures. And because calcium tightly controls the menstrual cycle, a deficiency can cause irregular periods in female athletes. Calcium may also relieve some PMS symptoms, such as bloating and fatigue. Eating enough calcium is necessary to keep an athlete healthy and injury free.

How can calcium prevent injuries in an athlete? 

Calcium plays a vital role in maintaining bone health and protecting athletes from stress fractures. An athlete with a calcium deficiency puts themselves at higher risk of stress fractures and injury due to the repetitive stress that comes with training. They may also be more susceptible to osteoporosis later in life. As a result, consuming adequate amounts of calcium through the diet is a crucial component of injury prevention.  

Should I take calcium supplements as a plant-based athlete? 

If you’re unable to achieve the recommended daily intake of  1,000 and 1,200 milligrams per day through diet and fortified foods, a calcium supplement may be advised. However, if you are getting enough calcium, it is not necessary to take a calcium supplement, unless advised by your health practitioner. Before resorting to a supplement, ask your doctor to check your blood calcium levels. 

How to get it from plant-based foods

Incorporate plenty of these plant-based calcium sources into your diet on a daily basis:

1. White Beans, 1 cup = 131 mg (13% daily value)

Spicy White Bean Dip on Cracker

White beans come in a variety of forms– navy beans, northern beans, cannellini beans and lima beans. They make a great addition to soups, salads and chili, or they can serve as the base for creamy dips. 

2. Edamame, 1 cup = 98 mg (10% daily value)

Vegan sushi bowl with quinoa, edamame, cucumber, avocado, carrots and a miso dressing

This sushi night appetizer not only tastes good, it’s full of bone building nutrients, like calcium and protein. I love to keep a pack of these in my freezer at all times and eat for a satisfying snack or dinner side dish. Add shelled edamame to a vegan sushi bowl for a hearty and filling protein. 

3. Tofu, 3 ounces = 100 mg (10% daily value)

close up picture of vegan tofu nugget

If you are a vegan, you can still get plenty of calcium from soy products, like tofu. Three ounces of tofu is a good source of calcium, but chances are that you eat more than 3-ounces in one sitting. 

Not to mention that tofu is easy to cook and takes on the flavor of basically any marinade. Spice up your meals by trying these tofu recipes:

4. Chia seeds, ¼ cup = 107 (10% daily value)

vegan strawberries & cream chia seed pudding recipe

This tiny seed has some large nutritional benefits, including healthy omega-3 fats and bone-boosting calcium. You can add these seeds to basically any breakfast food, like oatmeal, chia seed pudding and smoothies or even use them as an egg replacement in these baked oatmeal cups. 

5. Collard Greens , 1 cup = 84 mg (8% daily value)

vegan collard green wrap filled with colorful vegetables

Collard greens are a dark leafy vegetable that is often overlooked, but they have plenty of calcium. I love using collard greens as a wrap replacement since it’s a thicker, tougher green leaf that won’t rip apart when you roll it up!

Watch this video to see how to make an anti-inflammatory collard green wrap.

6. Kale, 2 cups = 120 mg (12% daily value) 

spaghetti with ricotta, kale and lemon in a white bowl

Whether you love or hate kale, it’s worth the hype. This leafy green has plenty of plant-based calcium, Vitamin C and Vitamin K. It’s also rich in inflammation fighting antioxidants. If you’re a kale lover, use it as the base for a salad. If you still need some warming up to it, pair it with creamy ricotta in this pasta dish. 

7. Butternut Squash, 1 cup = 67 mg (7% daily value)

4-ingredient vegan butternut squash soup with coconut milk in a white bowl

This gorgeous winter vegetable is not just high in Vitamin A—it’s also packed with potassium and calcium. A cup cooked has a little less than 10% of your daily calcium needs. Plus, it’s sweet, versatile and easy to cook. Roast it, mash it or throw it in a 4-ingredient soup. Or use it as the base for taco night!

8. Almonds, 1 ounce = 76 mg (8% daily value)

cinnamon roasted almonds

Just twenty-three almonds (or 1-ounce) packs a nutritional punch, with plenty of healthy fats, protein and calcium. Eat the unsalted roasted variety or take it up a notch with this simple Cinnamon Roasted Almonds treat. 

9. Figs, ½ cup dried figs = 125 mg (13% daily value)

chocolate olive oil mini cake with dried figs

These gorgeous and juicy dried fruit have fiber and calcium, making them a great addition to everything from oatmeal to salads. Eat dried figs in this yummy mini chocolate olive oil fig cake or drizzle fresh figs with honey and sea salt and eat them whole.

10. Tahini, 2 tablespoons = 120 mg (12% daily value) 

Gluten-Free Tahini Maple Oat Bite Recipe

Otherwise known as ground sesame seeds, tahini is a thick paste that is one of the main ingredients in hummus. But it’s also become a popular allergen-friendly substitute for nut butter. Try tahini in these delicious pre-workout Tahini Maple Oat Balls.

11. Fortified Orange Juice, ½ cup (4 ounces) = 150 mg (15% daily value)

Some orange juices are fortified with calcium. This means they don’t naturally contain calcium, but it’s added to the juice. It’s added in a form called calcium citrate malate (CCM), and research has found that this form of calcium is readily absorbed and contributes to overall bone health. In other words, opt for the calcium fortified orange juice, if you follow a plant-based diet. 

12. Fortified plant-milks, ½ cup (4 ounces) = 225 mg (23% daily value)

almond milk

Just like orange juice, many plant milks are fortified with calcium. Since calcium is abundant in dairy, plant milks are trying to compete by adding calcium. Most do a good job with 20+% in just ½ cup.

What should I eat to maximize calcium absorption? 

Although not as often recognized as calcium, Vitamin D plays a large role in bone health. Not only does it help the body absorb calcium, it also protects you from developing osteoporosis, a disease that thins and weakens the bones and makes them more likely to break. Vitamin D is also involved in the immune system, working to fight off invading bacteria and viruses. Lastly, adequate vitamin D intake has been associated with reduced inflammation in the body.

Vitamin D is naturally present in only a few foods, such as fatty fish, eggs, beef and mushrooms. Obviously, this poses a problem for vegetarians and vegans. Vitamin D is also produced when ultraviolet (UV) rays from sunlight hit the skin and trigger vitamin D synthesis within the body. Yet, Vitamin D absorption from sunlight varies widely based on skin tone, sun exposure and climate. 

Most people are Vitamin D deficient at some point in their lives. Because athletes tend to consume little vitamin D from the diet and sun exposure varies, supplementation may be required to maintain sufficient vitamin D status. Everyone should have their Vitamin D levels checked by their doctor to assess their levels. Athletes with a history of stress fracture, bone or joint injury, muscle pain or weakness should ask their doctor to draw blood to determine if Vitamin D supplementation is necessary.

Other nutrients you need on a plant-based diet

There’s a few nutrients that are a bit trickier to get on a plant-based diet– protein, iron and Vitamin B12. That doesn’t mean you can’t get them or will be deficient. It just means that you need to plan ahead to make sure you’re eating a well-balanced diet with the nutrients you need.

If you’re concerned about any of these nutrients, read more in these posts:

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I’m Natalie Rizzo, an NYC-based Registered Dietitian.

My mission is to help everyday athletes fuel their fitness with plants.

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