Calcium is vital for building and maintaining strong bones and teeth. The mineral is crucial for muscle and nerve function, helping regulate muscle contractions and nerve impulses. Calcium is involved in blood clotting and helps maintain healthy blood pressure. It is necessary for the secretion of hormones and enzymes. To say the least, the role of calcium in bodily functions is crucial. Although dairy is considered to be the most common source of the mineral, calcium rich vegetarian food can also help make up for your daily calcium needs. Plant-based calcium is easier to digest and comes with lower amounts of saturated fats.
Read on to find out more about some best vegetarian sources of calcium.
Daily Calcium Need
The daily calcium needs vary with age and gender. The daily calcium requirements for different age groups are as follows:
- Infants (0-6 months): 200-260 mg per day
- Infants (7-12 months): 260-525 mg per day
- Children (1-3 years): 700 mg per day
- Children (4-8 years): 1,000 mg per day
- Adolescents (9-18 years): 1,300 mg per day
- Adults (19-50 years): 1,000 mg per day
- Adults (51 years and older): 1,200 mg per day
Pregnant and breastfeeding women also require higher amounts of calcium, with recommended daily intakes of 1,000-1,300 mg per day.
Calcium Rich Vegetarian Food
The daily calcium needs can be fulfilled by food and supplements. Both animal and plant-based foods can be consumed to meet the daily dietary requirements. While non-vegetarians can try their hands on both, calcium foods for vegetarians are limited. Here’s a list of some good vegetarian sources of calcium.
1. Soy Foods
Soy products, such as tofu and tempeh, are excellent sources of calcium, particularly for vegetarians or those on vegan diets. Calcium-set tofu, in particular, contains up to 860 mg of calcium per half-cup serving. This is about 86% of the daily recommended intake for adults.
Tempeh is also a rich source of calcium. It provides about 184 mg of calcium per 100 g serving. Additionally, soy milk and yoghurt can be fortified with calcium, providing similar levels of calcium as in dairy products.
2. Beans, Peas, and Lentils
Beans, peas, and lentils are plant-based sources of calcium that are also rich in fibre, protein, and other essential nutrients. These foods can be a valuable addition to a balanced diet as they contain a handful of essential nutrients in addition to calcium.
One cup serving of cooked black beans provides approximately 46 mg of calcium, while a half-cup serving of cooked lentils provides almost 20 mg of calcium per serving. Other legumes, such as chickpeas, navy beans, and soybeans are healthy calcium sources.
Nuts are a good source of calcium, making them an excellent addition to a vegetarian or vegan diet. Almonds, in particular, are a rich source of calcium, with about 75 mg of calcium per 28 g serving. Other nuts, such as hazelnuts, pistachios, and Brazil nuts are the best calcium foods for vegetarians.
While nuts are not typically eaten in large quantities, incorporating them into your diet as a snack or adding them to dishes can help boost your calcium intake.
Seeds are another excellent source of calcium, as well as other essential nutrients. Every 28 g serving of chia seeds provides about 179 mg of calcium. Likewise, a similar serving size of sesame seeds contains around 280 mg of calcium. Other seeds, such as flaxseeds, poppy seeds, and sunflower seeds are also good sources of calcium.
These small, nutrient-dense foods can be easily added to smoothies, salads, or oatmeal, and provide a host of other health benefits, such as fibre, protein, and healthy fats.
5. Leafy Greens
Leafy greens are a rich source of calcium, making them an important component of a vegetarian or vegan diet. One cup of cooked kale provides 94 mg of calcium. A similar serving size of cooked spinach contains 245 mg of the mineral.
Other greens, such as broccoli, beet greens, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts also contain varying amounts of calcium.
Whole grains are not considered a significant source of calcium. However, some varieties do contain this important mineral. For instance, a one-cup serving of cooked amaranth contains about 116 mg of calcium. The same serving size of cooked quinoa provides almost 60 mg of calcium.
Other grains, such as millet and teff, also contain varying amounts of calcium. One can also opt for cereal products that are fortified with calcium for a higher calcium supply.
Fruits are a rich source of a variety of essential minerals and vitamins. Dried apricots, kiwis, oranges and figs are good sources of calcium. One medium-sized orange provides 52 mg of calcium. One medium-sized fig provides 35 mg of calcium.
Although fruits may not be the most efficient way to meet your daily calcium needs, they are still an important component of a healthy and balanced diet due to their high content of fibre, vitamins, and antioxidants.
8. Fortified Foods and Drinks
Fortified foods and drinks are an easy and effective way to boost your calcium intake. Foods fortified with calcium have calcium added during the manufacturing process. Therefore, although not naturally rich in calcium, they are infused with calcium to meet the body’s daily nutritional needs.
Breakfast cereals and packed juices are the most common examples of foods fortified with calcium. Every cup of fortified orange juice can provide around 350 mg of calcium. Similarly, every portion-size serving of fortified cereal delivers almost 1,000 mg of calcium.
9. Herbs and Spices
Although not the perfect source to get calcium, herbs and spices do contribute a tiny bit to meeting the body’s daily calcium requirements. For instance, one tsp of thyme when added to a cuisine will provide 8 mg of calcium. Cinnamon too confers a similar effect. One tsp serving of the spice provides about 11 mg of calcium. One tsp of oregano adds 14 mg of calcium to your daily total.
While the amounts of calcium in these herbs and spices may seem very small, they are often an unmissable inclusion for taste and aroma.
Calcium Rich Vegetarian Food Recipes
Listed below are some exciting ways to include calcium rich vegetarian food in your diet.
1. Palak Paneer
It is a popular North Indian dish that combines spinach with paneer, both good sources of calcium. Here’s how to make delicious and calcium-rich vegetarian delight:
- 500 g spinach leaves, washed and chopped
- 200 g paneer, cut into small cubes
- 1 finely chopped onion
- 1 finely chopped tomato
- 2-3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1-inch piece of minced ginger
- 1 chopped green chilli
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 1 tsp coriander powder
- 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
- 1/2 tsp red chilli powder
- 1 tsp garam masala
- Salt, to taste
- 2 tbsp oil
- Water, as needed
- Add oil to a pan and heat over medium heat. Add cumin seeds and let them splutter.
- Add onions, garlic, ginger, and green chilli. Saute until onions turn golden brown.
- Add tomatoes and saute until they turn mushy.
- Add turmeric, coriander, and red chilli powder. Add salt to taste. Mix well and saute for about a minute.
- Add finely chopped and washed spinach leaves. Mix well and cover with a lid.
- Cook for 5-7 minutes or until the spinach is completely cooked.
- Remove from heat.
- Blend the spinach mixture into a smooth puree using a blender.
- Transfer the puree back into the same pan and add some water to adjust the consistency. Bring it to a boil.
- Add the paneer cubes and garam masala. Mix well and let it simmer for a few minutes until the paneer is heated through.
- Serve hot with rice or naan bread.
2. Almond Milk Smoothie
This smoothie is packed with nutrients and is a great way to start your day or to enjoy as a snack. It’s dairy-free, vegan-friendly and the best source of calcium.
- 1 cup almond milk
- 1 banana, peeled and frozen
- 1 cup frozen mixed berries
- 1 tbsp honey
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 tbsp almond butter
- 1 tbsp chia seeds
- In a blender, combine almond milk, frozen banana, frozen mixed berries, honey, vanilla extract, almond butter, and chia seeds.
- Blend all ingredients to form a smooth and creamy texture.
- Pour the smoothie into a glass. Garnish it with some sliced almonds or mixed berries.
Calcium is required for important bodily functions. Getting the optimum levels each day is therefore important. While animal-based calcium is the most pronounced way to get your daily calcium needs, there is an abundance of calcium rich vegetarian food options available that can help meet your daily calcium needs.
Calcium foods for vegetarians include leafy greens, nuts, seeds, beans, fortified foods, and more. Incorporating these foods into our diet can not only ensure adequate calcium intake but also provide a variety of other important nutrients that are essential for overall health.