Well For Life

Well For Life

Benefits of Plant-based Calcium Rich Foods

For over 20 years I have been a vegetarian, but it’s only in the last 7 that I have incorporated a plant-based lifestyle. My mum has osteoporosis and so did my grandmother, so when I transitioned to a plant-based diet, it was essential that I made sure I was getting enough calcium from my diet. Calcium is the building block of our bones and it also maintains bodily functions such as heart rhythm, nerve communication, and the contraction and release of our muscles.

The dairy industry promotes milk and dairy products as the best source of calcium, and they say “If we don’t eat dairy, we will have a calcium deficiency”. But it is important to understand that animals get their calcium from eating calcium-rich plants, and the plants get it from mineral-rich soil. Dairy is rich in calcium, but what I have learned is that high dairy consumption doesn’t correlate to better bone and overall health. In fact, world health statistics show that osteoporosis is most common in countries where dairy products are consumed in the largest quantities.

It turns out that if we consume a diet that contains high acid-forming foods (meat, dairy, eggs, sugar, and processed carbohydrates), our body needs an alkaline mineral like calcium to balance the pH of the blood, so it may withdraw calcium from the bones.

It is also important to know there are foods and drinks that interfere with calcium intake.
  • Foods that are high in sodium, like convenience foods can trigger the kidneys to excrete calcium.
  • Alcohol when drunk excessively threatens bone health by interfering with the process of calcium and vitamin    D  absorption.
  •  Caffeine can reduce calcium absorption from foods, it’s important not to consume caffeine drinks within two hours of eating calcium-rich foods.
  •  Oxalates in spinach, rhubarb, tea, beans, nuts, and beets—can bind to calcium and prevent it from being absorbed. Cooking and soaking these foods reduce the oxalates.

Our daily need for calcium varies considerably:

  • Children aged 1-10 require 800mg
  • Children aged 10-18 require 1200mg
  • Adults aged between 19-65 require 800mg
  • Pregnancy/lactation requires 1200mg

While it’s possible to get enough calcium from our diet, some people might need to consider supplements.  It is important to note recent studies have investigated a possible link between supplemental calcium intake and cardiovascular disease.

Vitamin D also plays an important part in protecting our bones. It’s critical to your body’s ability to absorb calcium. The skin makes vitamin D when it’s exposed to sunlight, but in winter time we may need to supplement.  Consult your doctor and get a blood test before supplementation to see where your vitamin D baseline is at. Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin therefore it stores in the body, excess vitamin D can be harmful.

Up until now, the main focus has been on calcium and vitamin D for nutritional prevention of osteoporosis, however, new research suggests a tight control of magnesium could be crucial for bone health. The correct balance of magnesium alongside vitamin D and calcium when young could prevent osteoporosis. Seaweed contains high amounts of magnesium and calcium in a format that’s easily absorbed by the body. I add seaweed to my salads, soups, and casseroles.

Having a healthy lifestyle is key.

  • Consciously include plant-based calcium-rich foods into your diet, including dark green leafy and cruciferous vegetables, almonds, hazelnuts and sesame seeds, beans, lentils, chickpeas, figs, and soya.
  • With high levels of calcium and magnesium, seaweed contributes to healthy bones. Seaweed is one of the best vegetable sources of calcium that’s easily absorbed.
  • Increase your intake of alkalising foods like leafy greens, cucumber, avocado, lemon, celery, seaweed, chia seeds, apples, and kiwi fruit.
  • As mentioned above reduce or avoid acidic foods, alcohol, and caffeinated drinks.
  • Since bone is a living tissue, it changes over time in response to the forces placed upon it. Strength training and weight-bearing exercises such as hiking, jogging, dancing, and weight training help to stimulate and maintain bone growth and increases intestinal absorption of calcium.

As chia seeds are a great source of calcium, chia pudding is a great recipe to try out

Chia Pudding (1 serving)
  • 4 tbsp chia seeds
  • 150 ml almond/oat milk
  • 1 tsp almond butter
  • 1 – 2 pitted dates
  • ¼ teaspoon organic vanilla essence
  • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon powder
  • 1 tbsp cacao powder
  • 1/8 tsp sea salt
  • A handful of raspberries (or fruit of your choice).
  • 2-3 tablespoons desiccated coconut
  • 2- 3 tablespoons chopped nuts (almonds, walnuts, pecan)

  • In a blender combine the almond milk, chia seeds, almond butter, dates, vanilla, cinnamon, cacao powder, salt, and fruit. Blend until it’s a smooth consistency.
  • Transfer the mixture to a bowl. Option to cover and chill for at least 1 hour.
  • To serve, stir chilled pudding, and serve topped with coconut & nuts