Whether you're planning on making the transition to veganism or just looking to cut down on dairy, you're not alone. The number of people choosing to cut all animal produce from their diets is on the up. In fact, research suggests that the number of vegans in the UK has jumped from 150,000 to over 600,000 in just over a decade – an increase that shows no sign of slowing down. Simultaneously, sales of plant-based milks have also skyrocketed. Vanilla matcha latte with oat milk, anyone?
But, with dairy a prominent source of calcium in most diets, we've explored whether or not there is a downside to cutting out dairy...
Why is calcium important in your diet?
Firstly, let's get to grips with why we need calcium anyway. As registered nutritionist Uta Boellinger explains, "Most people know that calcium is important for bone health, but it has many more functions. Calcium is also found in cellular fluid, muscle and other tissue, and is incredibly important for nerve transmission and heart muscle function."
The NHS also adds that it makes sure your blood clots normally, with adults from 19 to 64 typically requiring over 700mg of calcium each day.
What are the risks of not getting enough calcium?
"The biggest risk of calcium deficiency is loss of bone density. This is particularly significant in women over 40," Boellinger explains. The NHS names these conditions as osteomalacia or osteoporosis. As per the National Institutes of Health, the former causes soft bones in both children and adults, and the latter causes weak, fragile bones and increases the risk of falling.
Additionally, there is a link between low calcium levels and PMS, but Boellinger warns that "the worst potential complication of low calcium would be heart issues." Pretty important, then!
Can you get enough calcium following a low-dairy/vegan diet?
Don't worry – there's no reason why you can't maintain a diet that is low (or features no) dairy but remains rich in calcium. Here, Boellinger comments on the vegan-friendly foods that will contribute towards your calcium intake so you can make sure you're staying healthy.
Vegan foods containing calcium
"While fruits are often not considered the best sources of calcium, oranges are among the fruits with the highest levels. Additionally, some orange juice is fortified with calcium and vitamin D, which is crucial for calcium absorption," Boellinger says. Don't forget that all-important dose of vitamin C, too. As for the portion size, a small orange is thought to contain 56mg of calcium (according to the NHS), whereas an enriched glass of OJ can pack in up to 195mg.
Whether it's scrambled on toast or cooked crisp in place of fish, tofu is a great way to up your calcium intake. "100 grams of tofu provides up to 350mg of calcium. It's also an excellent source of protein and so versatile to cook with, especially if you’re new to veganism. Try lightly dusting in cornflour before baking or air frying for that amazing crispy texture," Boellinger suggests.
3. Chia seeds
"Two tablespoons of chia seeds contain 18% of the recommended daily calcium intake, along with protein, fibre and the all important omega 3 fatty acids," Boellinger explains. "Try making a chia pudding for a quick hit, which is a great breakfast or afternoon snack."
"Figs are another fruit that act as a source of calcium, but also contain other bone-friendly minerals including magnesium and phosphorus," Boellinger explains. A 30g serving of dried figs contains 75mg of calcium, whilst a fresh 80g serving has 30mg. Figs also contain antioxidants and fibre – win!
Let's hear it for almonds! "A 100g serving provides a whopping 264mg of calcium, making it one of the highest non-dairy, calcium-rich foods. They make an excellent snack or can be used in cooking and baking (in the form of ground almonds). One of my favourite ways to eat them is almond butter, which is great on toast or used as a dip for apple slices," Boellinger says.
"Broccoli is a great source of calcium, giving you around 45mg per 100g. As it’s also an excellent source of fibre and very low calorie, you can include liberal servings in your diet," Boellinger advises. Packed with other nutrients like vitamins A to K, and minerals such as magnesium, zinc, and phosphorous, "broccoli also contains the important compound indole-3-carbinol, which has been shown to promote female hormonal balance," she says.
Making a soup, stew or scrambled tofu? Consider throwing in some beans for an extra dose of calcium. Boellinger says, "Most legumes are a good source of calcium, as well as other minerals. If you're not sure how to use them, start with tinned options as they're easier to incorporate into your diet, although dried beans (which require soaking overnight before cooking) are one of the most budget-friendly sources of minerals, as well as protein, available." Baked beans on toast for tea, anyone?
8. Leafy greens
"Spinach and kale are both excellent sources of calcium, with kale delivering 150mg of calcium per 100g. A really easy way to include this is to add chopped kale to your soups and stews. You can also buy it frozen, which makes it even more convenient," says Boellinger. It also works great blended into a smoothie with a banana, almond milk and avocado (along with a scoop of your favourite vegan protein powder, if desired).
Dairy-free diet but still a calcium queen? Sorted it, hun.
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