21 Best Calcium-rich Vegan Foods [Free PDF]
“21 Best Calcium-rich Vegan Foods [Free PDF]” was written by Kelsie Kan & edited/reviewed by Aly Bouzek, MS, RDN. Kelsie is a dietetic intern at Oregon Health & Science University.
Are you having difficulty finding vegan foods high in calcium? If so, this article is just for you! Common calcium-containing foods are made from or with animal products, and it can be challenging to figure out which plant-based foods are good sources of calcium.
What is Calcium and Why is it Important?
Calcium is a mineral that the body uses to support bone health and help blood, nerve, and hormone functions. Most of our body’s calcium is found in our bones and teeth. Bones use calcium to help keep their form and strength. (1)
According to the 2020-2025 USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans, about 30 percent of men 20 years and older and 60 percent of women 20 years and older do not eat enough calcium-rich foods to meet nutrition recommendations. (2)
Why is this important? Let’s find out below.
Benefits of Calcium for Aging
As we age, our bodies lose calcium. Our bodies need more calcium as we get older to help prevent weak bone conditions like osteoporosis, rickets, and osteomalacia. This is why it’s so important that we consume enough of this mineral.
Getting enough calcium can also help to prevent bones from breaking (fractures). Calcium is especially important because we are at a higher risk for falls and injuries as we age. (1)
How Much Calcium Do I Need in a Day?
Calcium recommendations are different between sexes and ages. The following table shows the daily recommended amounts of calcium for different groups (1):
|19 – 50 years||Men & Women||1,000 mg|
|51 – 70 years||Men||1,000 mg|
|51 – 70 years||Women||1,200 mg|
|71 years and older||Men & Women||1,200 mg|
It is important to note that if the body has too much calcium in the blood and urine, then that could cause problems for body functions. Some of these problems include:
- Functional issues with kidneys and heart
- Low energy levels
- Digestive issues
- Low phosphate levels
There are other conditions, like high levels of parathyroid hormone, that may cause the body to have high levels of calcium but are not a result of eating too much calcium. (3)
The following table shows the upper limits, or maximum daily intake, of calcium to prevent high levels of calcium in the blood and urine and issues with body functions (3):
|Age||Sex||Upper Limit for Calcium|
|19 – 50 years||Men & Women||2,500 mg|
|51 years and older||Men & Women||2,000 mg|
Naturally Calcium-Rich Foods
Dairy products like milk, yogurt, and cheese, are most known for containing calcium. Some seafood, such as canned sardines, boned salmon, and dried shrimp also have high amounts of calcium.
There are a variety of calcium-rich vegan foods, including whole grains, plant milks, seeds, and some vegetables. Calcium can also be found in the form of supplements.
When calcium is in a supplement, like a multivitamin, the supplement will likely also contain vitamin D. This is because our bodies need vitamin D to help with the absorption of calcium.
There are two kinds of calcium supplements and they either contain calcium as calcium carbonate or calcium citrate. (4) Both should be taken with food to reach the maximum level of calcium absorption. (3)
Both calcium carbonate and calcium citrate come from rocks (like limestone), or they can be created in a lab (synthetic). (5) The compounds themselves are vegan. However, not all calcium supplements are plant-based.
It is important to read all labels before purchasing or consuming any calcium supplements if you are following a vegan diet. We also recommend speaking with your doctor to evaluate your need for calcium supplementation.
Foods That Affect Calcium Absorption
While some foods have high amounts of calcium, foods that also naturally contain chemical compounds called oxalic acid or phytic acid can actually decrease our body’s ability to absorb calcium.
Examples of these foods include (4):
- Collard greens
- Sweet potatoes
Foods and beverages that contain caffeine can also negatively affect how the body absorbs calcium. On the other hand, foods rich in vitamin D can help the body absorb calcium.
Foods that naturally contain vitamin D include (6):
- Fish liver oils
Smaller amounts of vitamin D can be found in these foods (6):
- Egg yolks
- Beef liver
On the other hand, foods rich in vitamin D can help the body absorb calcium. Vitamin D, like calcium, is often added to cereals and plant milks. These foods are called fortified foods. Fortified foods are foods that have extra nutrients added to them.
21 Calcium-Rich Vegan Foods
The following table lists these foods from highest to lowest amount of calcium based on serving size (7):
|Calcium-Rich Vegan Food||Serving Size||Calcium (mg)|
|Coconut milk, fortified||1 cup (8 oz)||459|
|Almond milk, unsweetened, fortified||1 cup (8 oz)||422|
|Kale, cooked||1 cup||354|
|Orange juice, 100% juice, fortified||1 cup (8 oz)||350|
|Collard greens, fresh, cooked||1 cup||324|
|Whole grain bread, fortified||1 medium slice||246|
|Mustard greens, cooked||1 cup||193|
|Bok choy, cooked||1 cup||185|
|Spinach, fresh, cooked||1 cup||142|
|Okra, fresh, cooked||1 cup||141|
|Soybeans, cooked||½ cup||88|
|White beans||½ cup||70|
|Chia seeds||1 TBSP||66|
|Sweet potato, cooked||1 medium||57|
|Seaweed, dried||1 cup||56|
|Figs, dried||4 figs||52|
|Brazil nuts||1 oz||45|
Without further ado, let’s learn more about this list of 21 calcium-rich vegan foods!
Nuts, Seeds, and Greens
- Almonds: almonds are a quick and easy snack that pack in protein, healthy fats, and calcium. Try adding them to salads for an extra crunch!
- Almond milk, fortified: like other plant milks, almond milk is used as an alternative to cow’s milk in coffee and ice cream.
- Bok choy: Chinese cabbage, or bok choy, is often sautéed with other vegetables and a protein, like tofu, and served with rice or noodles.
- Brazil nuts: Brazil nuts are known for their high selenium content, but they are also a great source of calcium. Eat them by themselves or toss them in your trail mix.
- Chia seeds: chia seeds are a powerhouse of nutrients containing omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, antioxidants, and calcium. We love adding chia seeds to our smoothies or sprinkled on yogurt.
- Coconut milk, fortified: sauces, stews, and curries often contain coconut milk as a thickener and sweetener.
- Collard greens: collard greens are related to kale, but they don’t taste quite as bitter. Try eating them cooked as that boosts their calcium and dampens some of the bitterness.
- Figs, dried: dried figs are most commonly added into baked goods, like bars and pastries.
- Kale: kale can be added to smoothies or mixed in with the other greens in salads. Cut, massaged with oil, and baked, kale can turn into a light, crispy snack.
- Kumquat: kumquats are typically eaten unpeeled and whole right off the tree as a snack but can be added to salads or made into a compote or marmalade to spread on toast.
Beans, Greens, and Whole Grains
- Mustard greens: mustard greens are also related to kale but offer a “peppery”taste. Try adding them to your salad for a unique flavor.
- Okra: okra is a staple ingredient in gumbo, but it is also commonly roasted or fried as a side dish.
- Orange juice, fortified: though these fruits don’t naturally contain high amounts of calcium, orange juice is typically manufactured with added calcium.
- Rhubarb: Did you know that the edible part of rhubarb is its pink stalk? Some people like to use rhubarb for baked goods or when making their own jam.
- Seaweed, dried: seaweed is a great snack to have on hand when craving something crispy and savory. Strips of seaweed are often eaten with rice and a protein or chopped into fine pieces and used as a topping.
- Soybeans: cooking soybeans will get you the most calcium out of these little beans. Add them to your diet for a boost of fiber too!
- Spinach: spinach can be eaten raw or sautéed for a delicious side dish.
- Sweet potato: this orange superfood can be baked or chopped up and added to casseroles.
- Tahini: when added to foods, sesame creates a nutty flavor. Sesame seeds are made into a paste, called tahini, and is sometimes used to thicken sauces or soups. Tahini is most commonly known for being an ingredient in hummus and baba ghanoush.
- White beans: beans are a great source of calcium, including white beans. Create a bean salad or try adding them to some homemade chili for a boost of nutrients.
- Whole grain bread, fortified: whole grains can be eaten in many different ways. Calcium can be found in and added to whole grain breads, tortillas, pastas, cereals, crackers, baked goods, or nutrition/protein bars.
Calcium-rich Vegan Foods Infographic
Summary of Calcium-Rich Vegan Foods
Though calcium is most known for its presence in dairy products, there are plenty of other calcium-rich foods available for vegans to get their recommended daily amounts. Calcium can also be consumed as a supplement or be added to foods, like grains and juices.
Some foods can positively or negatively affect how the body takes in calcium, like those containing vitamin D, oxalic acid, or phytic acid. The main takeaway is that calcium is essential in maintaining bone health and blood, nerve, and hormone function.
As our bodies age, we require more calcium to prevent weak, brittle bone conditions. It is important to not focus on eating one specific food as a source of calcium, but to eat a variety of calcium-rich foods.
If you enjoyed this article and want more on calcium-rich foods, then check out our High Calcium Food Chart.
And by sure to snag your FREE copy of our Calcium-rich Vegan Foods Handout!
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Office of dietary supplements – calcium. NIH Office of Dietary Supplements. Accessed October 2022, from https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Calcium-Consumer/.
- Dietary Guidelines for Americans: 2020-2025. USDA. Accessed October 2022, from https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov/sites/default/files/2021-03/Dietary_Guidelines_for_Americans-2020-2025.pdf.
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Office of dietary supplements – calcium. NIH Office of Dietary Supplements. Accessed October 2022, from https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Calcium-HealthProfessional/.
- National Library of Medicine. Dietary Reference Intakes for Calcium and Vitamin D. National Center for Biotechnology Information. Accessed November 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK56070/.
- National Women’s Health Network. What is AlgaeCal? Accessed November 2022, from https://nwhn.org/have-you-ever-heard-of-algaecal-im-being-deluged-with-ads-saying-any-nutrient-supplied-in-natural-form-such-as-from-plants-is-better-absorbed-than-nutrients-supplied-from-rocks/#:~:text=There%20are%20two,into%20your%20body.
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Office of dietary supplements – vitamin D. NIH Office of Dietary Supplements. Accessed October 2022, from https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminD-HealthProfessional/.
- FoodData Central. U.S. Department of Agriculture: Agricultural Research Service. Accessed October 2022, from https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/.