Where Do Vegans Get Their Calcium?

by WiseFool

Think cow's milk and dairy products are the only way to ensure strong, healthy bones? Think again!

Several generations have grown up believing that cow's milk is essential for healthy development of teeth and bones.

The truth, however, is alarmingly different. In fact, not only is milk far from the only source of calcium, but it is also the most unhealthy source. Milk could actually be doing your bones more harm than good.

What is Calcium?

How Much Calcium is in The Human Body?

Stalagmites Made From Calcium, Cheddar GorgeCalcium is the fifth most prevalent element on Earth, and like many of our planet’s elements, it is essential for our health.

In fact, calcium is the most abundant element found in the human body, it makes up approximately 2% of your body weight and 99% of that calcium is found in your teeth and bones (the other 1% being used for various functions, such as blood clotting, muscle contractions, metabolism and the nervous system)

How Much Calcium Does a Human Being Need?

How Much Do You Need & Where Do You Get it?

Like many nutritional matters, there is no hard-and-fast rule as to how much calcium we need. And because each individual is different, it’s impossible to say that what is right for one person will be right for the next.

Therefore, here in the UK., RNI or reference nutrient intake value is used as opposed to the RDA or recommended daily amount. What does this mean? Well, the RNI gives a figure that is deemed sufficient for the vast majority of the population, 97.5% to be exact.

However, the amount of calcium deemed necessary to keep us healthy also, apparently, depends upon where in the world you are:

  • United Kingdom recommends 700mg per day
  • United States recommends 1000mg per day

Other countries also give different figures, which in some places, such as Japan, China and India can be as low as just 300mg per day.

Okay, so now we have an indefinite answer as to how much calcium you need? Where do you get it from? Well, that’s a bit more simple: one of two places. We get calcium from our diet or, if our bodies aren’t getting enough, they will take it from our bones.

Essentially, your body robs Peter to pay Paul - reabsorbing calcium from your bones to serve other important bodily functions. If this calcium is replaced by your diet, your bones will be ‘repaid’.

However, if your diet consistently fails to provide enough calcium, your body will simply keep stealing it from your bones and, eventually, they will become porous and weak. Therefore, the importance of getting adequate calcium cannot be overstated.

Is Milk Really The Best Source of Calcium

Is Cow's Milk The Only Way?

In many Western countries, the dairy industry has convinced us that cow’s milk is the best, if not the only, source of calcium available to us. But, let’s just think about that for a moment, shall we?

We are not, by a long shot, the only animal on the planet that needs calcium, and yet, no other animal drinks milk beyond the age of weaning. And we can touch just briefly on the absurd and slightly perverse nature of drinking the milk of another species.

I know there will be some reading this who disagree and feel that drinking cow’s milk is perfectly natural, but would you think it were perfectly normal and natural for a human woman to breastfeed a calf? If you think there is a difference between the two, I urge you to remove your blinkers momentarily. The problem is that we are conditioned, from a very young age, to believe that drinking milk from an animal (be it cow, sheep or goat) is natural. When, in fact, it is far from it.

The cruelty involved in the diary industry we can leave for another time. Suffice to say, for a human adult to drink a cow’s milk is unnatural. And, even if you want to argue that point, the fact is that one glass (500ml or 8oz) of whole milk has 300mg of calcium. How does that shape up against vegan sources?

I'm Sorry, You Want To Do What To Me?!
A Cow Peers out of a Barn Window in Sutton, N.H.
Pair of Guernsey Cows (Bos Taurus) Wisconsin, USA

Where Can Vegans Find Calcium?

You Might Be Surprised...

There are a large number of plant-based foods that are great calcium-providers. Any green, leafy vegetables like Kale, Broccoli, Bok Choy or Parsley, for example. Many nuts, especially almonds and Brazils, and seeds, particularly sesame, are also wonderful sources of calcium.

On the pulses front, you’ve got calcium rich chick peas, kidney, baked, broad and soya beans, as well as lentils and peas.

You might be surprised to learn that there are also great fruit sources of calcium, particularly lemons, oranges and olives.

Other great vegetable sources include parsnips, turnips and swede.

And if you still don’t think there’s enough calcium in that little lot, calcium enriched soy milk or fortified orange juice can also boost your intake.

How Do Vegans Grow Big and Strong?

Vegan Sources of Calcium
Food Sources & Amount Required Calcium Provided
Black molasses (2 tbsp) 400 mgs
Organic tofu (250g) 500 mgs
Calcium enriched soy or rice milk (one glass/500ml) 300 mgs
Orange juice fortified with calcium (one glass/500ml) 300 mgs
Boiled chickpeas (217g) 100 mgs
Curly kale (135g) 200 mgs
Dried figs (100g) 250 mgs
Sesame seeds (a small handful/25g) 168 mgs
Raw watercress (80g) 135 mgs
Almonds (a small handful/30g) 51 mgs
Brazil nuts (a small handful/30g) 87 mgs


Is Cow’s Milk Actually Doing Your Body More Harm Than Good?

Animal Protein in Cow’s Milk Has Been Linked to Osteoporosis

Not only are there plentiful supplies of plant-based calcium, but, even if you have no ethical qualms about drinking cow’s milk, there may be a reason to think twice.

The fact is, far from doing our bones good, animal milks may well be doing them harm. In the U.S., where dairy consumption is among the world’s highest, the occurrence of osteoporosis is also rife.

The Harvard Nurses Health Study explored the link between the consumption of animal milks and bone disease in women and suggests that instead of protecting women from brittle bones, the more dairy a woman consumes, the more likely she is to suffer fractures.

Why should this be?

Well, the answer is not in the amount of calcium being consumed, but the amount of animal protein. Animal proteins come with huge amounts of sulphur-containing amino acids, which need to be neutralised by the body. How does it do this? Yes, you’ve guessed it, calcium is used to naturalise the acid and, once used for this purpose, it is expelled from the body in urine. The more animal protein you consume, the more calcium is present in your urine.

So, far from protecting your bones, animal milk is actually leaving them more susceptible to disease and damage. In short, any positive effect provided by the calcium in cow’s milk is completely eliminated by the animal protein present.

More on Veganism

There’s a general opinion that vegans are a bunch of pasty-faced, undernourished, eccentric hippies. However, none of these stereotypes is accurate.
Updated: 03/05/2012, WiseFool
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Mira on 02/11/2013

Hi again, I came back to this article, even as I remembered reading it. Had forgotten one major point about animal protein leading to loss of calcium. Am glad I opened the page again.

WiseFool on 08/05/2012

Hello Mira, thank you for your kind comments. I'm glad that you found the piece interesting and educational. I wanted to link to the Harvard study, but was unable to find a complete copy online; just snippets from other sources. I will keep looking, though. And if I find it, I will add it in. Thanks again.

Mira on 08/05/2012

Hello WiseFool, this was a super interesting article, with that analogy with the natural world (other animals that don't drink milk past their weaning age), with animal-derived calcium being eliminated in your urine, with that Harvard study (why not add a link to it?) linking animal milk and brittle bones, and with all the useful information on where to find calcium in veggies and fruits.

WiseFool on 05/12/2012

Hello, Tolovaj. You're absolutely right, it's not a decision to be made lightly. But I do think it's very important to bust the myth that milk/dairy products are our only available source of calcium, because it's, obviously, far from true. More importantly, as you say - and as I mention above - not only is it untrue that milk is our only source of calcium, it's also not even a good source of calcium. As you rightly point out, it can do our bones and joints more harm than good. I hadn't heard of algae being a good source, but I'm very intrigued and will do a little investigation. If true, I'm sure that could make an article all on its own. Thanks for your input.

Tolovaj on 05/12/2012

Becoming a vegan should not be a decision made over night. Calcium intake is only one of problems coming with this diet. Life of a vegan brings a lot of responsibilities but this is actually good in long term, because responsible vegan starts to take care of his education and his health.

I also wrote an article about calcium intake and relation with dairy industry years ago. Bigger intake in some countries is in my opinion directly related with power of lobbies who support dairy industry. It is also known bigger milk intake leads to higher risk of osteoporosis.

As an alternative source of calcium I vaguely remember algae... not sure, but maybe interesting for your article?


WiseFool on 03/23/2012

Hey, HealthforLife. Yes, it is VERY strange. And I believe it's the same with guidelines for fruit and veg intake. Here in the U.K., we're told to have our "five a day", but in France it's ten and in Japan it's seventeen. So, there are very differing opinions on how much 'good stuff' humans need.

HealthforLife on 03/22/2012

I find it funny how depending upon where you are your recommended calcium intake varies, LOL! A bit confusing...

WiseFool on 03/11/2012

Hello Katie, thanks for the comment. Glad you enjoyed the article. Cows are really gorgeous, gentle creatures and, of course, consuming dairy products; milk, yoghurt, cheese, is actually no less cruel than eating beef. In fact, in some ways, the diary industry is crueller than the beef industry. More info on that, if you're interested, here: http://www.veganpeace.com/animal_crue...

katiem2 on 03/10/2012

I love cows, love the images you have included here of their sweet faces, can't imagine eating one, oh that makes me sad. Oh but I digress, I'm a vegetarian would be vegan, love the food but I do eat salmon and other fish. I enjoyed reading this and have a better understanding of the vegan diet.

WiseFool on 03/08/2012

Hello Brenda, thanks for the comment. I'm pleased that you've found the article useful in your exploration of veganism. I don't know whether you're already vegetarian, but, if you are, I don't think the shift to veganism comes as quite such a 'culture shock.' If you'd like any more info, please feel free to get in touch.

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