The transition to a vegetarian diet can be challenging. Fortunately, most find that once they have explored new foods and flavor combinations, it is easy and delicious to get all the nutrients necessary for a healthy body. However, even the most passionate vegetarians balk when it comes to taking the next step to a fully vegan lifestyle. They are concerned about eliminating all animal products from their diets, because they worry they can’t get enough calcium. Many wonder whether it is possible to keep their bones and teeth strong without help from milk, yogurt, and cheese.
In fact, there is an amazing array of calcium-rich food that fits a vegan lifestyle. With a few tweaks, your vegetarian diet can be quickly converted to one that is 100 percent animal-friendly, without any risk to your health.
Calcium Basics: What Your Body Does (and Doesn’t) Need
There are multiple factors that contribute to the strength and density of your bones, from genetics and hormones to the amount of exercise you get each day. Your calcium intake is an important part of the total equation, as it offers the building blocks from which bone tissue is created.
The total amount of calcium your body requires changes throughout your life, with peaks in the teen years, then again after menopause. From the age of 19 until you reach menopause, you should consume at least 1000 mg per day. Post-menopause, that figure goes up to 1200 mg per day.
Those who continue to consume dairy products get much of their calcium from milk and milk-based foods. However, there is a little-known downside to this method. As food is broken down in the body, it becomes either acidic or alkaline. Fruits and vegetables create an alkaline presence, while animal-based products become acidic. Studies show that excessive acidity can negatively impact calcium levels, as your body struggles to balance the acid with alkaline reserves.
Building Strong Bones Without Animal Products
Globally, there are a number of cultures that use minimal dairy products – or none at all – in their traditional cuisine. This includes most Asian and many African nations. Some new vegans choose to explore the food traditions from these countries as they make the transition to a diet free from animal products.
Calcium-set tofu is a popular option, as it also offers a satisfying amount of protein. Use it in place of animal protein in your favorite recipes. You can also try alternative milk and yogurt products. For example, fortified soy and almond milk are delicious and easy-to-find in your local market.
½ cup tofu – 434 mg of calcium
1 cup fortified almond milk – 450 mg of calcium
1 cup fortified soy milk – up to 400 mg of calcium
Compare this to the average cup of milk, which has just 300 mg of calcium.
There is plenty to love on the plant side when it comes to calcium. A variety of fruits and veggies have enough calcium to quickly get you to the recommended daily requirement. For example:
1 cup raw arugula – 125 mg of calcium
1 cup cooked broccoli – 180 mg of calcium
1 cup cooked spinach – 240 mg of calcium
1 cup dried figs – 300 mg of calcium
If you have been in the habit of basing meals around dairy, the idea of making the change to a vegan lifestyle can be anxiety-provoking. Fortunately, there is no need to panic. There are so many alternative sources of calcium that you can feel good about keeping your bones strong while adopting a completely cruelty-free diet.