As a holistic nutritionist who also happens to enjoy a plant-based lifestyle, I’m always more than happy to point a person who is frantic because of their newly diagnosed dairy allergy toward other sources of calcium. There are so many places to get calcium, and – surprise – some plant sources of calcium can be even better absorbed and utilized by the body!
Once upon a time, raw milk was widely available and was an alkaline-forming food. The calcium present in the milk was reasonably well-absorbed. However, now the most widely available milk and its products are highly processed and far from raw, and contain higher levels of phosphorus – making this altered form of dairy an acid-forming food. The acidity/alkalinity of a food can affect how its nutrients are used or absorbed by the body.
Too many acidic foods in the diet can contribute to a state of metabolic acidosis, which means that the body’s tissues have become slightly more acidic than normal. When this occurs, the body needs to balance the acidity by buffering it with alkalinity, such as from calcium. Calcium is pulled from tissues, including bones, to neutralize the acid.
By reducing acid-forming foods in your diet, such as by avoiding processed and conventional animal products (including conventional dairy), refined sugars and flours, processed fats, and stimulants like caffeine; and increasing alkaline-forming foods, such as dark leafy greens, sprouts, raw seeds, some raw nuts, flax oil, and citrus fruits, you can in effect reduce your body’s gross demand for alkalizing calcium. This is because the net amount absorbed is higher, since less of it is needed for buffering. Put simply, your body’s calcium needs are lower and you can reach them more easily!
My Top Ten Favorite Plant-based Sources of Calcium:
1. Sesame seeds – one of the richest sources of plant calcium! Sprinkle some on a stir fry or sushi rolls, or use tahini to make some fresh hummus, salad dressing, or straight up as a dip for veggie sticks.
2. Chia seeds – it’s said these tiny seeds contain more calcium than milk! Combine some with plant milk of your choice, let set in the fridge overnight, and you have a calcium-packed breakfast or snack ready to eat! Check out my recipe for O Canada Royal Maple Chia Pudding! or this 2 Minute Raw Breakfast Porridge on YoungandRaw.com.
3. Chickpeas – many legumes are great sources of calcium, but I just love chickpeas in so many things! To enjoy them raw, rinse and soak the chickpeas overnight, change the water and soak again, repeating daily until little tails start to sprout. Enjoy your activated chickpeas in salads, along with tahini in a raw hummus for a calcium double-whammy, or even by the handful!
4. Kale – is there anything kale can’t do? Great in salads and smoothies. While kale is a great source of calcium, it is a high-oxalate green, so for those who may be sensitive to oxalates, steaming lightly can help mitigate the mineral-binding effect of oxalic acid.
5. Bok choy – another member of the Brassica family of vegetables (other members include the amazing kale, as well as broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts…), bok choy doesn’t disappoint in the calcium department! Another vegetable great in stir fry’s, and also delicious sliced up or shredded raw in a salad with carrots, sesame seed oil and a dash of coconut aminos (a fermented coconut-based replacement for soy sauce – it’s amazing!).
6. Almonds – one of the more alkaline-forming nuts and a good source of calcium! To get the most out of your raw almonds, soak them overnight prior to eating. This helps activate the nutrients and boost their absorption. Try making your own raw almond milk in your blender with a cup of soaked almonds and 4 cups of filtered water, then save the pulp after straining to use as a dip, to throw into smoothies, or to dehydrate into almond flour for baking!
7. Black-strap molasses – a good-quality organic unsulfured molasses boasts lots of vitamins and minerals, including calcium! Try using some in your cookie recipes to replace refined sugar – you’ll only need about half the amount you would sugar, so you may need to adjust your dry ingredients accordingly (makes great gingerbread oatmeal cookies!).
8. Coconut milk – coconut products of all kinds seem to be all the rage right now, and for good reason! Real coconut milk, made from blending coconut flesh with its water, is a nice source of calcium and other electrolytes. Add some to a smoothie, or try fermenting it to make your own homemade yogurt.
9. Sea vegetables – indulge your love of sushi and know you’re getting some calcium in to boot! Use nori sheets to make veggie wraps with sprouts, shredded carrot, and cucumber (bonus: the skin of a cucumber is another place to find calcium!). Spread the sheet with a little tahini or hummus for another calcium boost!
10. Quinoa – this gluten-free pseudo-grain (it’s really a seed!) is great cooked or sprouted and is a wonderful source of calcium. Throw into salads, soups, even smoothies, or add some to those veggie sushi rolls for extra calcium and filling protein!
So there you have it. They may say that “milk does a body good,” but you can know that plants do a body better!
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- A Nutritionist’s Top 10 Sources of Plant-Based Calcium - August 1, 2013