The 9 best ways to get calcium

The 9 best ways to get calcium

Healthiest ways

Calcium is a mineral that is necessary for life. In addition to building bones and teeth and keeping them healthy, calcium enables your blood to clot, your muscles to contract, and your heart to beat.

The dairy industry has spent millions of dollars making you think that if you don’t consume dairy products, you risk not getting enough calcium.

That can seem logical. But is it true?

How much calcium do you need? And what are the best sources?

Find out the truth about calcium (and what science really says) in this article from the Food Revolution Network.

You hear that calcium is essential to strong bones. And
that the best source of calcium is dairy products. But is that the whole story?
How should you get the calcium you need? And what are some of the most healthy,
calcium rich foods? Read on to see what the science says so you can make the
best decisions for your health.

As a teenager, I remember seeing TV commercials featuring
celebrities and athletes proudly wearing milk mustaches, gazing into the
camera, and asking, “Got Milk?”

As the grandson of the co-founder of the Baskin-Robbins ice
cream chain, that question had a particular resonance for me. And as the son of
John Robbins, who walked away from an opportunity to helm that chain for
ethical reasons, I knew the answer that fit for me.

“Yessir! I got almond milk!”

The Got Milk? campaign, which ran from 1993 to 2014, made an
effective and lasting impression on consumers. And it’s one reason why so
many consumers, even today, strongly associate calcium with milk and dairy

But is this message valid? Are milk and dairy
products really the best places to get calcium? Are other calcium rich foods
better for you? 
And is calcium as important as we’ve been told it is?

What’s the Role of Calcium for Your Health?

Calcium is the fifth most abundant element in the earth’s
crust. It’s just about everywhere in the form of rocks and minerals. And it
makes its way into plants and then into the animals who eat plants.

Calcium is an essential mineral for human health.
It’s primarily stored in your bones and teeth. (And it’s what makes your pearly
whites so strong).

More calcium exists in your body than any other mineral. That works
out well because you need calcium to perform some essential functions.

Calcium helps:

  • Carry messages between your brain and the rest of
    your body;

  • Your nerves and muscles to move;

  • Transport enzymes and hormones through your blood to
    where they need to go;

  • Keep your muscles, nerves, and blood vessels
    functioning well; and

  • Play a vital role in maintaining healthy blood

Calcium also enables the
most critical muscle in your body — your heart — to
receive signals and contract. Without calcium, your heart wouldn’t

How Much Calcium Do You Need?

According to the U.S. FDA, the Recommended Dietary
Allowance for adults 18 years and older is 1,000 to 1,200 mg of calcium
per day

The FDA says that your calcium needs increase to
1,300 mg per day during teenage years, pregnancy, and lactation. And that
postmenopausal women may also need to increase their calcium intake.

But these numbers may be high. The National Health
Service of Britain recommends considerably less calcium per day — only
700 mg.

So how much calcium you need apparently depends on which
side of the pond you stand! (Or maybe, just possibly, it could also depend on
how much food industry lobbyists influence your government bureaucrats.)

Calcium Myths and Controversies You Need to Know

Calcium may be one of the most talked-about nutrients. But
that doesn’t mean everything you hear is necessarily true.

Especially when information is coming from trade
organizations, food companies, or manipulated governments. (See more about the
dairy industry’s whitewashing in our article here.)

Here are some of the most widespread myths about calcium:

Myth #1 — Dairy Products Are the Best Sources of Calcium

Dairy is high in calcium. But contrary to
popular belief, high dairy consumption doesn’t correlate with better
bone health

In fact, osteoporosis and bone fractures are most common in the United States, Finland, Sweden,
and the United Kingdom — the countries where people consume the most dairy

Eating a lot of dairy products can also increase your
risk for certain cancers
, such as prostatebreast,
lung, and ovarian
. This may be due to
sex hormones like estrogen and other growth factors naturally present in milk.

Dairy products deliver a lot more than just calcium.
They come with animal proteins, lactose, hormones,
contaminants, and even antibiotics.

Of course, there are other downsides to
the industrialized dairy industry, like that it’s cruel to animals and damaging
to the planet. (For more concerns about dairy, check out this article.)

Myth #2 — Getting Enough Calcium Is the Most Important
Thing You Can Do for Bone Health

Calcium is important for bone health. But calcium
isn’t the only thing your bones need to be strong

Vitamin D — which you make with the help of the
sun — is also essential.

People in countries like India, Peru, and Japan, eat around
one-third the amount of calcium that Americans do, yet in these countries, bone
fractures are rare. They have much higher exposure to sunlight
due to geographic location, which naturally increases their vitamin D levels.

You can get the vitamin D you need with just about 15
minutes per day in the sun
. Taking a vitamin D-containing supplement can also be beneficial.

Being active as you age is also highly recommended, and has been proven to
help prevent fracture
. Exercises to focus on for bone health especially
include weight-bearing activities, such as walking, running, tennis, dancing,
stair-climbing, and weight-lifting.

Myth #3 — Everyone Should Take a Calcium-Containing
Supplement, Just to be Safe

I’ve known many people who take calcium supplements
fervently in an attempt to keep their bones strong as they age. Around 43% of
Americans take a calcium-containing supplement, including 70% of
older women.

But is this helpful?

Research suggests that for many people, calcium
supplements may do more harm than good

The risks of calcium supplementation are especially significant for people with a history of
kidney stones

And this isn’t a new finding. A large epidemiological
study published in the New England Journal of
 in 1997 looked at calcium intake and kidney stone incidence
among almost 92,000 women between the ages of 34 to 59.

The women, who had never had a kidney stone at the outset of
the study, were followed with questionnaires from 1980 to 1992. The researchers
found that those women with higher dietary calcium intakes had reduced risk for
kidney stones, while those who took calcium supplementsincreased their
risk for kidney stones by 20%

The 2011 Women’s Health Initiative randomized clinical
trial observed kidney stone incidence among 36,282
postmenopausal women. Half were given calcium plus vitamin D daily, and half
were given a placebo.

Those on calcium and vitamin D daily for seven years had a
17% increase in kidney stone incidence. This is thought to
be because high doses of supplemental calcium make your body excrete more
calcium in your urine, promoting kidney stone formation.

Calcium Supplements May Also Increase the Risk for
Cardiovascular Disease

A study published in BMJ in
2008 followed 1,471 healthy postmenopausal women in New Zealand over five
years, looking for adverse cardiovascular outcomes. Half of the women were
given a placebo, while the other half were given calcium supplementation.

Those who took calcium supplements experienced more heart
and other unwelcome cardiac events

Calcium supplements may increase blood calcium, which can cause stiff arteries
and increase blood pressure. Both of these contribute to the development
of heart

Calcium supplements can also prevent certain medications
from working
, as well. Specifically, they can reduce the absorption of
certain antibiotics, anticonvulsants, and even, ironically enough, medications
used to treat osteoporosis.

So if dairy products aren’t the best source of calcium, and
if calcium supplementation comes with considerable drawbacks, the question
is: Where should you get your calcium?

You might want to look at where cows get their calcium
from: Plants.

9 Plant-Based, Calcium Rich Foods

Below are some of the most naturally calcium rich plant

Plant-Based, Calcium Rich Foods #1 — Seeds

  • ½ cup sesame seeds = 350 mg calcium

  • 1 ounce chia seeds = 180 mg calcium

I love to keep a variety of nuts and seeds in
the pantry. I sprinkle sesame seeds on a salad or roasted veggies. Chia seeds
are great in smoothies, oatmeal, or ground and sprinkled on just about

If you prefer a spread, tahini (sesame seed butter) offers
130 mg of calcium in just 2 tablespoons. That’s about 10% of what your body
will need in the United States and 20% of what it’ll need in Britain. (If you
trust official government recommendations, that is!)

Plant-Based, Calcium Rich Foods #2 — Beans

  • ½ cup navy beans or baked beans = 60 mg calcium

  • ½ cup kidney beans = 75 mg calcium

  • ½ cup black beans = 160 mg calcium

Beans are incredibly versatile. And at under $2 per pound
dry (or around $2 per can), they’re affordable, too. Add beans to soups,
salads, burritos, pasta, casseroles, tacos, and pizzas.

Plant-Based, Calcium Rich Foods #3 — Lentils

  • 1 cup lentils = 80 mg calcium

Lentils are inexpensive and shelf stable. Try red
 in soups like dahl, green lentils in salads, or brown lentils
to make a lentil loaf.

Plant-Based, Calcium Rich Foods #4 — Almonds

  • ½ cup raw almonds = 80 mg calcium

  • 2 Tbsp almond butter = 80 mg calcium

Almond butter is a great alternative to peanut
, and it’s easy to make with a high-speed blender or food processor.
Raw almonds are easy to add to smoothies, muffins, and pancakes, or just eaten

Plant-Based, Calcium Rich Foods #5 — Low-Oxalate Leafy

  • ½ cup of collard greens
    = 300 mg calcium

  • 1 cup bok choy = 60 mg calcium

  • 1 cup chopped kale = 80 mg calcium

Oxalates are compounds found in certain leafy greens that
can block calcium absorption. Oxalates can make otherwise highly nutritious vegetables
— like spinach, swiss chard, and beet greens — not-so-great sources of calcium.

Greens with lower oxalates include collard greens, bok choy,
and kale. Mix these into salads or try them sauteed or steamed.

Plant-Based, Calcium Rich Foods #6 — Soy

  • 100 grams of tofu = 175 mg calcium

  • 1 cup of Edensoy organic soy milk = 100 mg calcium

  • ½ cup edamame = 60 mg calcium

Organic soy foods
are great for many recipes. Use extra-firm tofu in stir-fries, pasta dishes,
tofu scrambles, or even sliced on sandwiches. Try silken tofu in smoothies,
dips, and sauces.

Edamame can be purchased in the frozen section of many
markets, either still in pods or pre-shelled. Add edamame to salads, buddha
bowls, or homemade hummus. You can drink soy milk plain, or use it in any other
way you would regularly use cow’s milk — like in cereal or for baking.

Plant-Based, Calcium Rich Foods #7 — Oranges

  •  medium navel orange = 80 mg calcium

Oranges receive praise for their vitamin C content, but
they’re also high in calcium. I can’t think of a better way to enjoy a juicy
orange than by simply eating it raw.

Plant-Based, Calcium Rich Foods #8 — Broccoli Raab (Rapini)

  • 1 bunch cooked broccoli raab = 515 mg calcium

Broccoli is a decent source of calcium — coming in at around
40 mg per cup — but broccoli raab (also known as rapini) is even better. It can
be boiled, sauteed, or seasoned and roasted.

Plant-Based, Calcium Rich Foods #9 — Dried Figs

  • 4 dried figs = 55 mg calcium

If you’re not a fan of eating dried figs plain, they’re
great additions to baked goods, like muffins, breads, and scones. Some people
even add them to smoothies.

What About Calcium-Fortified Plant Milks?

Most plant milks are fortified with calcium, though some
aren’t. Fortified milks can contain as much — if not more — calcium than a
glass of cow’s milk.

If you drink plant milk, check the label, as the calcium
content can vary between varieties and brands.

Of course, fortification is really just a way of adding
supplements to food. It may or may not be beneficial, but it’s
certainly not the same as getting calcium from natural food sources

Do Any Factors Affect Calcium Absorption?

If you’re one of the people who struggles with your calcium
levels, it could be that the problem doesn’t stem from not consuming enough
calcium. It may also be that you’re not absorbing it well.

Several things can interfere with how much calcium you

  • Eating too much sodium. Salt can increase calcium
    loss. If this is a concern for you, avoid high sodium processed and
    packaged foods, rinse canned beans and vegetables (unless they are
    unsalted to begin with), and don’t add salt when cooking if you don’t need
    it. Many expertssuggest that you keep your sodium
    intake to under 1,000 to 2,000 mg per day

  • Smoking and tobacco use. Habits like
    smoking and tobacco use can promote calcium loss, reduce bone density, and
    increase the risk of fractures. Other lifestyle factors common among
    smokers, such as inadequate physical activity, earlier menopause, poor
    diet, or alcohol use, can also contribute.

  • Eating animal-derived protein. Eating a
    lot of animal protein can remove calcium from the bones and increase its
    excretion. This doesn’t seem to happen when you eat plant proteins,
    such as beans, lentils, or grains.

  • Eating mainly animal-derived calcium. A
    study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutritionfound
    that calcium from leafy greens was absorbed at significantly
    higher rates than dairy
    . Calcium in Brussels sprouts was absorbed at 64%, and calcium in kale was absorbed
    at 50%, while calcium in cow’s milk was absorbed at a rate of only 32%.

  • Not eating enough of other nutrients. For
    your body to absorb and use calcium properly, you need other nutrients, including vitamins D, C, K, E,
    magnesium, and boron.

  • Getting your calcium only from oxalate-containing
    . Oxalates can inhibit calcium absorption, so oxalate-rich
    foods, such as spinach, rhubarb, beet greens, and swiss chard, shouldn’t
    be relied upon for their calcium content
    (though they do contain many other healthy nutrients!). Be sure to eat
    other calcium rich foods, like the ones listed above, to ensure you get
    what you need.

What Happens When You Don’t Get Enough Calcium?

Your body regulates its calcium levels through biological checks
and balances. If your blood calcium is low, your body will remove calcium from
your bones to make up for it. This means that if you’re truly calcium
deficient, you may not have obvious symptoms for a while because your body is
trying to manage it.

Osteoporosis affects over
10 million adults over the age of 50 in the United States. Worldwide, over
200 million people
suffer from this disease. The majority of cases are in postmenopausal women and
the elderly, who have an increased risk for fractures in their spine, hips, and wrists.

Other symptoms of more serious calcium
include finger
tingling and numbness, convulsions, and changes in heart rhythm that can be
very dangerous

Eating plant-based calcium rich foods are probably your
best bet for avoiding calcium deficiency.

The Final Word on Calcium

It’s important to get enough calcium — for the health of
your bones, and your heart, and to carry out many functions in your body.

So do your body a favor and enjoy the best plant-based
sources of calcium. They’re abundant in other minerals and nutrients as well…
not to mention, cruelty-free and better for the planet!

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