Plant Based Diet Meal Plans for Calcium Requirements

There is no question that calcium is an important nutrient.

Growing up, we were told to drink milk to grow big and tall. However, you are now an adult, having opted for a plant-based diet and questioning how to get enough calcium from your diet. Fear not, because I am going to give you a run down on your calcium requirements, the best sources and the best practises to help calcium absorption on a plant-based diet. 

Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the human body and is essential for the normal development and maintenance of the body’s skeleton and for proper functioning of nervous, muscular and cardiac systems. Clearly, calcium has an important role in the human body and an inadequate intake can contribute to the progression of serious disorders such as osteoporosis and osteopenia. 

Calcium Recommendations

To achieve an adequate amount of calcium depends on multiple factors such as absorption, bioavailability (the proportion of an nutrient that is absorbed and utilised), excretion, variation in food sources and inhibitory factors.

https://t-b9.juiceplus.com.au/what-is-juice-plusThe recommended daily intake (RDI) for calcium for males and females, aged 19-30 and 19-50, respectively, is 1000mg per day. Different life stages requires a higher intake. Over the age of 30 for females and 50 for males and adolescents between 12-18 years of age increases to 1300mg per day. Calcium is particularly important for growing children so they can reach their full potential height as adults. Older adults require a higher intake because calcium absorption decreases with advancing age. A particular interest is within older women, aged 50 and above, given their increased risk for osteoporosis and osteopenia in their postmenopausal stage. 

Hypercalcemia is the condition where calcium intake and levels in the blood is too high and can cause serious complications such as weakened bones, kidney stones and calcification in blood vessels and soft tissue. Excessive intake of calcium from foods alone is rare and is generally associated with the use of calcium supplements. The Upper Level (UL) of calcium in Australia is set at 2500mg per day. 

Plant Based Calcium vs. Dairy Calcium

To state the obvious plant based calcium comes from plants, such as broccoli, kale, spinach and bok choy. When manufacturing plant based milk, the material is extracted from plants such as soybeans and rice, immersed in water and undergoes a series of processing and fortification that results in a similar milky substance to that of cow’s milk. The nutritional values of plant base milks varies, with soy milk, a product originating hundreds of years ago in Asia, having comparable nutritional values to that of cow’s milk. Plant base milk have a number of added benefits such as fibre, folate, vitamin B2, vitamin B12 and antioxidants and is almost absent of saturated fat. 

On the other hand we have calcium from dairy products that comes from mammals, mainly cows. Cow’s milk has a good bioavailability of calcium that can be attributed to the presence of other components such as lactose, casein phosphopeptides and vitamin D. Cow’s milk can come in a variety of forms such as skim, whole and reduced fat and with varying nutritional values. In general, cow’s milk contain fats, including saturated fat, lactose, protein and some vitamins and minerals. 

Absorption of Calcium 

The efficiency of calcium absorption varies among foods and can be effected by the presence of other factors in foods, or what I like to call calcium culprits. 

Studies show that a higher load of calcium intake negatively effects the efficiency of calcium absorption. What I am suggesting here is that you should be spacing your calcium intake throughout the day rather than in one sitting.

Calcium absorption can be decreased due to the inhibitory effect of phytates and oxalates, commonly known as ‘anti-nutrients’. These anti-nutrients can bind to calcium, forming insoluble complexes, thus decreasing calcium absorption. Oxalates are highest in certain dark leafy greens. That's not to say we shouldn't eat them - we just need to be aware of how they affect calcium absorption.

To limit high-oxalate greens, choose low-oxalate vegetables such as kale and broccoli. Phytates are also found in whole grains, nuts, seeds and legumes. There are plentiful food preparation and processing methods you can do to reduce the phytate content in the household that includes soaking, heating, germination, fermentation and pounding. If you are unable to perform these methods there are plenty of alternative foods available that are low in phytates and oxalates that I will touch on in this blog.

The other two calcium culprits to keep an eye out for are sodium and protein. Sodium and calcium excretion are linked in the kidneys and for every 2300mg of sodium consumed takes out roughly 40mg of calcium. A diet high in protein can promote urinary calcium excretion and each gram of protein takes out 1mg of calcium. To complicate things, adequate protein is essential for bone growth, maintenance and renewal.

You can be chowing down as much calcium as possible, but it won’t be effective without its trusty friend vitamin D. Numerous studies have been conducted on the relationship between calcium and vitamin D.

A study in 2015 evaluated fractional calcium absorption from a green leafy vegetable vs. milk in relation to vitamin D status of postmenopausal Thai women. They found that vitamin D status had a significant impact on fractional calcium absorption in both the plant-based diet and dairy diet postmenopausal women. The RDI for vitamin D is 5µg per day and increases in adults over 50 and over 70 to 10 per day and 15µg per day, respectively.

One form of vitamin D is produced in the human body from sunlight exposure. In Australia we are lucky to experience sunshine majority of the year round and if sunlight exposure is adequate, dietary vitamin D may not be essential. If you are concerned about receiving an adequate amount of vitamin D, there is vitamin D found in fortified milks such as soy and rice, fortified tofu and mushrooms.   

Calcium food sources

https://www.therawfoodgirl.com.au/products/the-raw-food-girls-smoothies-ebookWe all associate cow’s milk with calcium, however, there is a plethora of non-dairy food sources that contain adequate, if not, large amounts of calcium to meet our daily requirements. The key is to eat a variety of sources, throughout the day, so calcium intake adds up to meet your needs. Consumption of non-dairy sources of calcium, such as vegetables low in phytates and oxalates including broccoli, collards, Chinese cabbage, bok choy and kale, tofu containing calcium, fortified plant-based foods such as fortified milks such as almond, cashew and rice and fruit juices and cereals are feasible approaches to ensure intakes of bioavailable calcium is meet. Many studies have been conducted on the bioavailability of calcium in fortified soy milk and fruit juices and find that they are of similar quality to that of the calcium in cow’s milk. One glass (250mL) alone can provide approximately 300mg of calcium alone, achieving 30% of your recommended daily intake. 

Other wonderful plant based calcium sources include sesame seeds, brussels sprouts, butternut squash, sweet potato, chickpeas, navy beans, dried figs, dried apricots, and many more. 

To reduce the phytate content of a food you can soak your nuts, seeds, legumes and wholegrains. To avoid oxalates don’t eat too much raw dark leafy vegetables or you can lightly steam them to reduce the oxalate content. 

Example Menu: Raw

This example menu can be used as a guide for adding rich sources of calcium into you diet. You can adjust it to your own personal preference, or include samples from the Cooked Menu below.

Breakfast

Calcium Rich Smoothie

  • 1 cup of fortified soy or almond milk – 320 mg of calcium
  • Barley grass – 110mg of calcium
  • 1 cup of spinach leaves – 30mg of calcium
  • 1 medium banana – 6mg of calcium
  • 1 medium apple – 11mg of calcium
  • = 471mg of calcium

Lunch

Zoodle Salad

  • 1 medium zucchini made into ‘zoodles’ with a spiralizer – 31mg of calcium
  • 1 medium carrot grated – 20mg of calcium
  • 1 medium beet grated – 13mg of calcium
  • 1 cup of kale leaves chopped – 24mg of calcium
  • 1/2 of an avocado – 18mg of calcium
  • Make a dressing out of 1 tablespoon raw tahini (or you can make your own from sesame seeds), ¼ cup of juice squeezed from a lemon – 63mg of calcium
  • = 169mg of calcium

Dinner

Raw Pad Thai

  • 1 medium zucchini made into ‘zoodles’ with a spiralizer – 31mg of calcium
  • 1 medium red capsicum – 8mg of calcium
  • 1 cup of sliced red cabbage – 78mg of calcium
  • ½ cup of edamame beans – 44mg of calcium
  • Make a dressing out of 1 garlic clove, 2 tablespoons of juice squeezed from a lime, 3 tablespoons of raw almond butter, grated ginger, ¼ cup of unpasteurized tamari sauce and some water – 205mg of calcium
  • = 366mg of calcium

Snack

  • 30g of almonds – 80mg of calcium
  • 6 dried apricots – 27mg of calcium
  • = 107mg of calcium

Total of 1113mg of calcium

Example Menu: Cooked Vegan

Breakfast

  • ½ of rolled oats – 23mg of calcium
  • 1 cup of fortified soy milk – 320 mg of calcium 
  • 1 tbsp sesame seeds – 4mg of calcium 
  • 1 tbsp peanut butter, no added salt, no added sugar – 6 mg of calcium 
  • 1 medium banana – 6mg of calcium 
  • = 359mg of calcium

Lunch

  • 1 cup of chickpeas – 69mg of calcium 
  • 1 cup of kale – 24mg of calcium
  • 1 cup of spinach – 30mg of calcium 
  • ½ cup of grated carrot – 18mg of calcium 
  • 1 medium tomato chopped – 10mg of calcium 
  • 2 thin slices of red onion – 4mg of calcium 
  • = 155mg of calcium 

Dinner

  • 85g of firm tofu – 230mg of calcium 
  • 1 cup of bok choy – 158mg of calcium 
  • ½ cup of mushroom 2mg of calcium 
  • ½ of broccoli – 20mg of calcium 
  • ½ of cabbage – 79mg of calcium 
  • = 489mg of calcium 

Snack

  • 30g of almonds – 80mg of calcium
  • 6 dried apricots – 27mg of calcium 
  • = 107mg of calcium 

Total of 1110mg of calcium  

 

~ Written by Stephanie Russell, 3rd Year Nutrition Student. Connect with Steph on @LinkedIn

 

Reference List

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Risks of Dietary Versus Supplemental Calcium. Postgraduate Medicine, 125(6), 73-81. doi: 10.3810/pgm.2013.11.2714

Dawson-Hughes, B. (2003). Interaction of Dietary Calcium and Protein in Bone Health in 

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Nutrient Reference Values for Australia and New Zealand. (2014). Calcium. Retrieved from https://www.nrv.gov.au/nutrients/calcium

Nutrient Reference Values for Australia and New Zealand. (2014). Vitamin D. Retrieved from https://www.nrv.gov.au/nutrients/vitamin-d

Ross, A., Taylor, C., Yaktine. A,, & Del Valle, H. (2011). Dietary Reference Intakes for Calcium   

and Vitamin D. Washington, D.C: National Academies Press. Retrieved from 

Sirichakwal, P., Kamchansuppasin, A., Akoh, C., Kriengsinyos, C., Charoenkiatkul, S., & O'Brien, K. (2015). Vitamin D Status Is Positively Associated with Calcium Absorption among Postmenopausal Thai Women with Low Calcium Intakes. The Journal of Nutrition, 145(5), 990–995. doi: https://doiorg.ezproxy.ecu.edu.au/10.3945/jn.114.207290

Tang, A., Walker, K., Wilcox, G., Strauss, B., Ashton, J., & Stojanovska, L. (2010). Calcium 

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Zaho, Y., Martin, B., & Weaver, C. (2005). Calcium Bioavailability of Calcium Carbonate 

Fortified Soymilk Is Equivalent to Cow’s Milk in Young Women. The Jounral of Nutrition, 135(10), 2379-2382. doi: https://doi.org/10.1093/jn/135.10.2379

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