Put down your bag of calcium caramel chews, your fancy yogurt, and that ridiculously large glass of milk, friend. You may want to sit down; I have a bit of earth (or hip) shattering news that just might interest you: you can get sufficient calcium without eating any dairy products. I know; the milk industry has convinced most of us (particularly ladies) that we will be walking in the shape of the letter C, just waiting to break our brittle bones, by age 60 if we’re not consuming copious amounts of milk products on a daily basis. I was on the dairy bandwagon for years, my favorite hit being yogurt. (I still get misty remembering Trader Joe’s organic vanilla yogurt; I actually cried when they discontinued it. True story.) And if it does your body good to consume milk, yogurt, and cheese, I see no reason not to eat ethically produced, organic dairy products. However, I do have a bone to pick (sorry, I’ll try to stop) with the dairy industry’s over-the-top promotion of milk as the primary source of calcium when there are perfectly healthy plant-based alternatives.
There’s no real debate about calcium — everyone agrees that our bodies need it, not only for building strong bones and teeth (who knew?!), but also to regulate our muscle functions (including the heart), to aid in coagulation (clotting) processes, and for normal hormonal, enzyme, and neurotransmitter production. I don’t know about y’all, but I need my neurotransmitters to work as well as possible. If you aren’t getting adequate amounts of calcium in your diet, your body will simply borrow, without asking (kind of like your cousin and that sweater, remember?), from your bones and teeth, leaving them in a potentially weakened state. The people who need to be most concerned about getting enough calcium in their diets are children and young adults, pregnant women, and seniors.
Here’s another little-known fact about calcium: even if you’re getting adequate calcium in your diet, if you are also eating large amounts of animal protein, you could actually be pissing away (literally) most of that calcium, rather than absorbing it. Vegetable proteins have not been shown to cause the same leeching effects, which has been illustrated by studies done on vegetarian women who have less loss of bone density and lower bone fracture rates overall. (Could it be that animals are getting their dietary revenge? They are happy for us to eat dairy products, sure, but they draw the line at actual meat?) I would be remiss if I did not also point out that coffee and carbonated beverages cause us to leech, and therefore waste, precious calcium. This is a very sad fact indeed, and all the more reason to find exciting new ways to incorporate more calcium into your diet.
Vegan or not, you should aim for about 1000 milligrams of calcium per day, or 1200 if you’re pregnant or over 60 years of age. Enough with the suspense, right? Here are a few plant sources surprisingly high in calcium:
Collard Greens (1 cup = 350 mg) Okay, yes, I’ve neglected collard greens. On it.
Kale (1 cup = 180 mg) Oh, kale, you again?
Blackstrap Molasses (2 T = 400 mg) Laura Ingalls Wilder called, she wants her molasses back!
Hemp Milk (1 cup = 460 mg) No, it’s not just a fabric anymore.
Soy beans (1 cup = 175 mg) Get thee to a sushi bar!
Amaranth (1 cup = 275 mg) What the what? I’ll work on this, I promise.
Figs (1/2 cup = 120 mg) Grandma’s favorite “dessert” just got more interesting.
Tahini (2 T = 130 mg) Hello, hummus. Try whipping some up with curry powder and green onions: amazing!