I’ve been enjoying a vegan lifestyle for some time now, and I find that the health and ethical benefits have greatly enhanced my overall quality of life. But during recent routine doctor visits, I got some furrowed brows when I mentioned that I was vegan: there were concerns about my bone health especially, due to the lack of dairy and high amounts of soy in my diet. I know that plenty of vegan foods contain high amounts of calcium (even more than dairy), but what are some of your favorite bone-friendly ingredients and recipes?
Thank you for your advice!
You deserve a gold star for not just adopting a vegan lifestyle, but also for taking proactive care of your health by visiting your doctor! But fortunately–as you rightly point out–having a 100% plant-based diet doesn’t mean you will be automatically low in calcium. As with any other nutrient, calcium is found in a variety of sources and is absorbed by the body in a complex biochemical process. Calcium intake is never as reductive as the “drink milk, otherwise take supplements” scenario.
For instance, as with most things, getting calcium through foods is a better idea than relying on supplements. Calcium is also absorbed better when combined with Vitamin D and protein, and less absorbed with high amounts of fat, fiber, and magnesium. All these nutrients work in tandem with one another but rather than getting all knotted up trying to combine the perfect foods for perfect absorption, I would suggest knowing what some calcium powerhouses are and then trying to vary things up. Actualy, I bet this list includes some of your current favorite foods.
Broccoli rabe – 100 g cooked broccoli rabe has 12% of your calcium DRV.
Chickpeas – 1 cup canned beans have 8% of your calcium DRV. The protein isn’t bad either! 12 g per serving.
Tahini – 2 tbsp serving contains 12% of your calcium DRV!
Almond butter – 2 tbsp serving contains 8%.
Chia seeds – 1 oz serving contains 18%. Reasons to make more pudding!
Lambsquarters – 1 cup cooked (boiled and drained) has 46% of your calcium DRV, plus 281% Vitamin A, 111% Vitamin C, and 6 g protein. This is even more calcium than the same amount of boiled collard greens! (27%).
Did I mention I absolutely adore lambsquarters?
These pretty, tender greens can be found at farmer’s markets right about now!! Clean and trim the ends and saute with a little olive oil and garlic (you could add some tomato paste for more flavor–just saute for a minute in the oil before adding the greens). Or, you could steam or blanch them and dress them. You can also eat them raw as a salad green though it has a very earthy taste and texture that lends itself well to cooking. You’ll be surprised how such simple preparation can make it taste so hearty and distinct from other leafy greens.
Don’t forget about fortified foods! If you’re conscious about not getting too much soy in your diet, try other non dairy milks like almond, hemp, flax, rice, hazelnut, etc. You really can’t go wrong with any of them–and most of them will be fortified with anything from 35-50% of your daily calcium intake. Finally, weight-bearing exercises are just as important for maintaining healthy bones as getting enough calcium!
Congratulations again for being so proactive about your health!
xo Peaceful Dumpling
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