We have all been taught that calcium is an essential nutrient for maintaining bone health (although it has many other uses, including balancing body pH.) There are also a number of other factors that influence bone health, such as an individual’s level of physical activity.
What I want to talk about today though is the myth that animal milks (especially cheeses) are the optimal source of calcium.
As explained by The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM):
“Although many people think of calcium in the diet as good protection for their bones, this is not at all the whole story. In fact, in a 12-year Harvard study of 78,000 women, those who drank milk three times a day actually broke more bones than women who rarely drank milk. Similarly, a 1994 study of elderly men and women in Sydney, Australia, showed that higher dairy product consumption was associated with increased fracture risk. Those with the highest dairy product consumption had approximately double the risk of hip fracture compared to those with the lowest consumption.”
Calcium is an essential nutrient in our diet. But as you can see, not all calcium is equal. Did you know that although animal milks have calcium in them, they also leach calcium from the bones? (This helps explain the outcomes of the studies mentioned above). In fact, all animal proteins leach calcium from our bones!
“Animal protein tends to leach calcium from the bones, leading to its excretion in the urine. Animal proteins are high in sulfur-containing amino acids, especially cystine and methionine. Sulfur is converted to sulfate, which tends to acidify the blood. During the process of neutralizing this acid, bone dissolves into the bloodstream and filters through the kidneys into the urine. Meats and eggs contain two to five times more of these sulfur-containing amino acids than are found in plant foods” – PCRM
Other factors that influence calcium loss and bone health are:
– Possibly caffeine
– Tobacco use
– Physical inactivity
– Lack of sun exposure
Another important note to make is about the amount of calcium we actually need on a daily basis:
“The World Health Organization recommends 400-500 milligrams of calcium per day for adults. American standards are higher, at 800 milligrams per day or even more, partly because the meat, salt, tobacco, and physical inactivity of American life leads to rapid calcium loss.” ~ PCRM
So the question remains: How do we get calcium in our diet without leaching calcium from our bones at the same time?
There are plenty of calcium-rich plants to get this essential nutrient from. On the next page, I’ve provided a list of plant-based foods to start you off. This list is by no means exhaustive, but provides a good mix of fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds and grains that are packed with calcium, demonstrating that it’s easy to reach a daily calcium intake anywhere from 400mg to 1000mg (depending on your calcium needs) solely using plant sources.
Whole Food Sources:
Plant (Serving Size, mg of Calcium)
– Collard greens, cooked (1 cup, 357)
– Figs, dried (10 medium, 269)*
– Soybeans, green, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt (1 cup, 261)
– Turnip greens, cooked (1 cup, 249)
– Tempeh (1 cup, 184)
– Kale, cooked (1 cup, 179)
– Bok choy, cooked (1 cup, 158)
– Mustard greens, cooked (1 cup, 152)
– Okra, cooked (1 cup, 135)
– Navy beans, cooked (1 cup, 126)
– Almonds, whole (1/4 cup, 94)
– Chickpeas (garbanzo beans, bengal gram), mature seeds, cooked, boiled, without salt (1 cup, 80)
– Oranges, All commercial varieties (1 cup sections, 72)
– Broccoli, cooked (1 cup, 62)
– Papayas, raw (1 cup mashed, 46)
Fortified or Packaged:
(Food, Serving Size, mg of Calcium)
– Tofu, raw, firm, prepared with calcium sulfate. (1/2 cup, 861)
– Blackstrap molasses (2 Tbsp, 400)
– Oatmeal, instant (2 packets, 326)
– Tofu, soft-regular processed with nigari (4 oz, 130-400)
– Tofu, soft-regular processed with calcium sulfate* (4 oz, 200-420)
– Soy or rice milk, commercial, calcium-fortified, plain (8 oz, 200-300)
– Other plant milks, calcium-fortified (8 oz, 300-500)
– Calcium-fortified orange juice (8 oz 350)
– Commercial soy yogurt, plain (6 oz, 300)
– Almond butter (2 Tbsp, 111)
USDA Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 24, 2011 and manufacturers’ information.
*J.A.T. Pennington, Bowes and Church’s Food Values of Portions Commonly Used. (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, 1994.)
NIH – Calcium Quick Facts
T Colin Campbell
T Colin Campbell