Posted Saturday, September 10, 2011 at 9:27 AM
Great question. Anyone who does not get enough calcium is at risk for bone fractures. The million dollar question is, "What is enough?" The recommendation is set high to cover the needs of almost all Americans no matter what the situation. As stated in the American Dietetic Association's position paper on vegan and vegetarian diets, "...the fracture rates of the vegans who consumed over 525 mg calcium/day were not different from the fracture rates in omnivores." It goes on to say, "Other factors associated with a vegetarian [vegan] diet, such as fruit and vegetable consumption, soy intake, and intake of vitamin K-rich leafy greens must be considered when examining bone health." Also important is vitamin D (sunshine) and exercise for bone health.
Using fortified foods like nondairy milks is an easy way to get more calcium in the diet. While it is not the most absorbable form of calcium (like cow's milk, about 1/3 of the calcium is absorbed), it has a lot of calcium per serving.
Here is a list of servings of good calcium sources that I got from a new book called Vegan for Life written by two well-respected registered dietitians:
1/2 cup fortified plant milk (250-300 mg - check label)
1/2 cup cooked collards (133 mg)
1/2 cup calciium-set tofu (150-300 mg - check label)
1/2 cup dried figs (120 mg)
1 Tbs blackstrap molasses (80 mg)
If I had only the above servings in a day, I would be getting about 900 mg of calcium - probably more than a healthy person needs. And these are by no means the only sources, but I just wanted to give you an idea. If I made a dish with navy beans, sweet potatoes, and quinoa and only had one serving, that would be another 120 mg of calcium. If I had an orange, that would another 60 mg.
As you can see, variety in the diet is very beneficial. Not only are you getting calcium, you are getting all of those other nutrients that are certainly just as beneficial to the bones and are highly available in fruits and vegetables.
If you don't eat much, or eat a very limited diet, then one should consider a supplement for a variety of nutrients that may be missing. Again, this is good advice for anyone, not just people eating a vegan diet.
Susan Levin, MS, RD
PCRM Director of Nutrition Education