Question: Dear Monique, I am a 36 years old and I have been a strict vegetarian for more than 12 years now (no dairy, meat, fish or fowl, but I do eat eggs and honey). I am concerned about getting enough calcium in my diet in order to prevent osteoperosis. I eat a lot of tofu and drink soymilk, but I would like to know about other good non-dairy sources of calcium. Thanks so much, Nicole
Answer: Some excellent non-dairy, plant-based dietary sources of calcium for vegetarians include kale, collard greens, turnip greens, broccoli, okra, leeks, rutabagas, canned pumpkin, spinach, celery, cabbage, tofu made with calcium sulfate, fortified soymilk, beans and legumes (especially edamame, soy, white, great northern, black turtle, pinto, garbanzo and lima), sesame seeds and tahini (a sesame seed paste).
Our bodies need calcium to build and maintain strong teeth and bones; to regulate muscle contractions, heartbeat and blood pressure; and aid nerve function, cellular water balance and proper blood clotting. If you consume and absorb too little calcium you run the risk of getting osteoporosis, rickets and hypertension (high blood pressure). However, too much calcium in the diet can cause the calcification of bones and soft tissues, and the development of kidney stones. Diets high in protein, salt, caffeine, sodas and alcohol promote calcium loss.
The RDA for calcium is 1000 mg for the average adult. While I advocate eating a calcium rich diet, some vegetarians and vegans may find it difficult to achieve this amount of calcium on a daily basis.
Therefore, I also recommend taking calcium citrate supplements in addition to eating calcium rich foods. Supplements made from calcium carbonate are not as easily absorbed by the body as calcium citrate, and can also block the absorption of iron.
When taking calcium supplements, it is best to spread out the doses and take 500 mg of calcium twice a day rather than one dose of 1000 mg. Also, you may want to take calcium with magnesium to avoid its constipating effects (magnesium is a laxative) and vitamin D to promote its absorption.
For more information read "Calcium and Strong Bones" at http://www.pcrm.org/health/prevmed/strong_bones.html
and the books. . .
• Plant Based Nutrition and Health
by Stephen Walsh
• The New Becoming Vegetarian: The Essential Guide To A Healthy Vegetarian Diet
by Vesanto Melina & Brenda Davis
• The Mediterranean Vegan Kitchen
by Donna Klein
• Vegan with a Vengeance : Over 150 Delicious, Cheap, Animal-Free Recipes That Rock
by Isa Chandra Moskowitz
• Becoming Vegan: The Complete Guide to Adopting a Healthy Plant-Based Diet
by Brenda Davis & Vesanto Melina
• Vegan Freak: Being Vegan in a Non-Vegan World
by Bob Torres, Jenna Torres
• Veganomicon: The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook
by Isa Chandra Moskowitz
• The Complete Idiot's Guide to Vegan Cooking
by Beverly Lynn Bennett and Ray Sammartano
You may also want to visit the Virtues of Soy website.
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Monique N. Gilbert, BSc. has offered guidance in health, nutrition, fitness and stress management since 1989. Through her writings, Monique motivates and teaches how to improve your well-being, vitality and longevity with balanced nutrition, physical activity and healthy stress-free living.