How to Get Calcium from Plant-Based Sources

Over 99% of the calcium in our bodies is stored in our bones and teeth. As adults age into late life, bone loss outpaces bone growth, raising the risk of osteoporosis. For this reason, most adults ages 51+ need about 1,200 mg of calcium per day, or about the amount you’d get in 4 cups of milk. 

As luck would have it, many people find that they have trouble digesting lactose (a carbohydrate in milk and dairy products) when they get older, making it uncomfortable to get calcium from dairy foods like milk and cheese. Today, lactose-free milk, yogurt, and dairy products are fairly easy to find at most major supermarkets, making it easy for lactose-intolerant adults to enjoy these products as they age. 

Getting calcium from veggies or plant based food

However, there is another, much overlooked source of calcium that isn’t found in the dairy aisle. Plant-based foods such as leafy green vegetables, fortified soy foods, nut butters, and fortified cereals provide calcium. Not only is it possible to get calcium on a plant-based diet, because of the many plant-based sources of calcium available, there may also be additional benefits. Plant foods tend to also be high in other nutrients important for bone health, such as magnesium, potassium, vitamin K, and phytonutrients.

All healthy diets, whether you are vegan or omnivore, require balance and a little bit of advanced planning in order to get the biggest nutritional bang for your buck. Additionally, in places where people don’t eat much dairy, such as in Asia, plant-based sources of calcium may be even more important. A study in Nutrition Research found that, “in this population of low-dairy consumers, intake of calcium from meat and dairy products was not related to risk of osteoporosis and bone mineral density.” Further, the researchers concluded that “high dietary intake of calcium, especially plant calcium, reduces the risk of osteoporosis and increased bone mineral density in postmenopausal Korean women,” and that “vegetables may be an important source of calcium and may also provide vitamins and minerals that exert additional beneficial effects on the bone.

This is part of the inspiration behind Oldways’ Plant Forward Plates recipe collection – a collection of nutritionally balanced, flavor forward plant-based recipes that make a great toolkit for offering healthy menu options in various healthcare settings, including assisted living. This recipe collection, which includes at least 2 calcium-rich sources daily, improves the resident experience with delicious meals that also happen to be healthy.

Whether you take your coffee with milk or a plant-based milk, there is a calcium source out there to please any preference. To see how much calcium is in various plant-based foods, check out the chart below.

PLANT-BASED SOURCES OF CALCIUM:

Food Milligrams (mg)
per serving
Almond Milk, fortified with calcium, 1 cup 450
Soy yogurt, fortified with calcium, 1 cup 450
Soymilk, calcium-fortified, 8 ounces 299
Orange juice, calcium-fortified, 6 ounces 261
Tofu, firm, made with calcium sulfate, ½ cup 253
Black strap molasses, 2 tablespoons 230
Tempeh, 1 cup 184
Tofu, soft, made with calcium sulfate, ½ cup 138
Tahini, 2 tablespoons 128
Almond butter, 2 tablespoons 111
Ready-to-eat cereal, calcium-fortified, 1 cup 100–1,000
Turnip greens, fresh, boiled, ½ cup 99
Edamame, frozen, prepared, 1 cup 98
Kale, cooked, 1 cup 94
Almonds, ¼ cup 94
Figs, 5 medium 88
Chickpeas, 1 cup 80
Pinto beans, cooked, 1 cup 79
Chinese cabbage, bok choy, raw, shredded, 1 cup 74
Mustard greens, raw, 1 cup 64

 

Amounts of calcium vary from one product to the next, so always check the nutrition facts label to be sure you’re getting what you expected. Data from the USDA Food Composition Database (https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/search/list) & the NIH (https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Calcium-HealthProfessional/)