Choosing to adopt a Vegan diet can bring about quite a few new changes (and health benefits!). From learning which foods to avoid to finding great ways of cooking staples like tofu and chia seeds, going Vegan can feel like a significant adjustment. On top of that, you also need to make sure you’re getting enough of the vitamins and minerals that our bodies need for optimum health - including calcium.
As a Vegan, you’ll be pleased to know that it’s possible to eat a calcium-rich diet without a dairy product in sight! Here’s what you need to know about this mineral as a new Vegan and why it’s so important.
What Is Calcium and What Does It Do?
Like iron, magnesium, sodium and potassium, calcium is a mineral that our bodies need for several vital functions. Our bodies don’t produce calcium naturally, so we must look to our diets to obtain the levels we require for good health.
Monitoring your calcium intake is extremely important, as it’s responsible for:
● Strengthening our teeth and bones.
● Facilitating healthy muscle movement (including regulating our heartbeats!)
● Helping blood vessels to transport blood and making sure blood clots normally.
According to the NHS, adults between the ages of 19-64 should consume approximately 700mg every day to avoid calcium deficiency. However, as many of the richest calcium sources contain dairy, those of us following a Vegan diet are more at risk of falling short of 700mg a day. If we put it into perspective, a 30g serving of cheddar cheese offers approximately 216mg of calcium, while a 50g portion of broccoli only offers 30mg of calcium.
That’s not to say that there aren’t lots of Vegan-friendly sources of calcium to choose from; there are plenty! But, we do need to monitor our intake carefully to prevent calcium deficiency.
What are the Signs of Calcium Deficiency?
Because calcium plays such a vital role in the body, long-term calcium deficiency can be detrimental to your health. Over time, low calcium levels can cause calcium deficiency disease (hypocalcemia) and contribute to disorders such as osteoporosis.
Some of the main symptoms of hypocalcemia include:
● Muscle cramps
● Numbness in the hands and feet
● Brittle nails
● Dry and itchy skin.
Most worryingly of all, hypocalcemia can also leave your bones vulnerable to fractures and breaks. This is another dangerous symptom of osteoporosis, a condition that causes your bones to become porous and weaken over time.
Vegans can be more vulnerable to calcium deficiencies because of the lack of dairy in our diets, but adolescents, women over the age of 50 and men over the age of 70 generally also fall short on calcium intake.
How to Boost Calcium Intake With a Vegan Diet
To make sure you’re reaching the recommended daily dose of 700mg of calcium, start by enjoying at least two calcium-rich foods every day. Some of the Vegan-friendly foods and drinks that offer the highest levels of calcium include:
● White and brown bread
● Soya, oat and rice milk
● Dairy-free yoghurt.
To make sure these products have been set with calcium, don’t forget to read the ingredients list. Not all products are fortified with extra minerals, so it’s always best to check the packaging.
These items can be supplemented with servings of:
● Poppy, sesame, celery and chia seeds
These are all delicious whole foods that can be served at breakfast, lunch and dinner, or eaten as a snack between meals. If you already use fortified soya or oat milk in your morning coffee, you’re already one step closer to reaching the recommended target!
How to Boost Calcium Absorption
Alongside calcium, it’s important to monitor and boost your vitamin D levels. Vitamin D is what absorbs calcium into the body, so insufficient levels could leave you vulnerable to deficiencies. One of the best natural sources of vitamin D is sunlight, but we can’t get enough vitamin D from the sun throughout the winter months here in the UK.
The most efficient way to up your vitamin D intake on a Vegan diet is to take supplements, although be careful to check the ingredients list before choosing between D2 and D3 vitamins. D2 supplements are always Vegan, but D3 is often extracted from sheep’s wool.
● Calcium is a vital mineral needed for strong teeth and bones.
● Vegan sources of calcium include fortified soya milk, tofu, bread, broccoli and almonds.
● For efficient calcium absorption, it’s recommended that you take vitamin D supplements.
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