Veganism is a dietary preference characterized by the avoidance of meat, poultry, fish, dairy, eggs, and honey. People are vegan for many reasons, most commonly related to ethics, health, or the environment.
A common concern when it comes to veganism is adequate intake of calcium. Calcium is most popularly consumed through dairy products such as yogurt, cheese, and milk, but the truth is dairy isn't the only - or even the richest - source of calcium. There are many plant sources of this essential mineral, some containing equal or even greater quantities of calcium than a glass of milk. Find out the best calcium-rich plant foods below.
1. Kiwicha (Amaranthus caudatus)
Members of the Amaranth genus can be traced back to different points of the Americas, from south of the Sonora desert and down to the southern Andes. They have been enjoyed for millennia by the different native cultures, but subsequently went off the radar for centuries. The Aztecs in Mexico, for example, were so fond of their local amaranth variety they believed this small grain brought about supernatural powers.
Amaranthus caudatus, a species native to the central branch of the Andes (South America) is particularly prized by its nutritional content: it contains four times the amount of calcium as wheat, at about 16% your recommended daily intake (RDI) per 100 grams. Known by the native Incas as Kiwicha, it is also an excellent source of protein, fiber, and manganese. This seed-size grain is a great calcium-dense replacement for oatmeal in the morning, a delicious addition to soups and stews, and a crunchy topping for hearty salads.
2. Basil (Ocimum basilicum)
If you are wondering what flavor to put atop your delicious vegan pizza or pasta, this Mediterranean herb has got you covered. Who needs cheese when you have basil? This is one of the most calcium-dense herbs out there, and the great part is that you probably already have it sitting in your kitchen. It contains about 18% your RDI as compared to 20% in cheese.
It is also essential to note that it is packed with vitamin K. Without vitamin K, calcium cannot find its way to the structural protein matrix of the bone.
3. Soy (Glycine max)
Soy products are the holy grail of many vegans. These little beans, called edamame when green, can produce everything from meat replacements, like tofu and tempeh; to milk, butter, yogurt, and even ice cream. Tofu contains around 35% of your RDI of calcium, while fortified soymilk has the same calcium and vitamin D content as cow's milk, around 30% of the RDI. Enjoy this low-fat, cholesterol-free meat or dairy replacement with the reassurance that your calcium needs are being taken care of.
4. Broccoli Rabe (Brassica rapa subsp. rapa)
Broccoli rabe, also known as rapini, consists of the leaves, stems, and buds of a vegetable in the turnip family. The buds resemble broccoli but never quite grow as large in size. It may be slightly bitter, but it's worth it due to the fact it contains 52% your RDI of calcium when cooked. It is a great choice if you're ever out to an Italian or Portuguese restaurant with your meat-eating friends, and is usually sautéed with deliciously healthy garlic and olive oil.
This article alone contains 150% of your daily recommended intake of calcium, so don't be fooled by people telling you a plant-based diet cannot meet your dietary needs. By adding a variety of these foods in fun and interesting ways daily, you will get more than enough calcium. Unfortunately, some vegans who are unaware of the best sources can become deficient, so get a blood test and keep this list fresh in your mind.
NYU Langone Medical Center. (2013). Vegan Diet. Retrieved April 3, 2014, from http://www.med.nyu.edu/content?ChunkIID=165206
Office of Dietary Supplements. (2013). Calcium. Retrieved April 3, 2014, from http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Calcium-HealthProfessional/