Why do we need calcium?

Often associated with bone health, calcium is an important mineral at each life stage. As well as being required to form and build strong bones and teeth, calcium facilitates blood clotting and regulates muscle contractions, including that of the heart. A vegan diet can provide your calcium requirements if you include a varied selection of calcium-rich and fortified foods.


Discover more about vital minerals, including calcium, and whether you are at risk of calcium deficiency and learn more about a balanced vegan diet.

How much calcium do I need?

The UK daily reference nutrient intake by age is as follows:

  • 0-12 months (non breast-fed only) = 525mg
  • 1-3 years = 350mg a day
  • 4-6 years = 450mg a day
  • 7-10 years = 550mg a day
  • 11-18 years (girls) = 800 mg a day
  • 11-18 years (boys) = 1000mg a day
  • 19+ years = 700mg
  • Breastfeeding = 700mg + 550mg

Calcium is important during pregnancy for developing your baby’s bones and teeth, as well as later in life for post-menopausal women and the elderly to help reduce the risk of conditions such as osteoporosis.

Are plant sources of calcium as good as animal sources?

Although plenty of plant foods contain calcium, it is important to remember that we tend to absorb less from plant sources than from dairy or other animal foods. This is because natural compounds in plants, such as oxalates and phytates, reduce our ability to access calcium. It’s therefore important to look for calcium-fortified plant foods and to ensure you are achieving adequate amounts in your regular diet.

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Should vegans supplement with calcium?

Studies agree that calcium intake is lowest for those following a vegan diet and, in many cases, it falls below dietary reference intakes, which may increase risk of bone fracture. In these circumstances, a supplement may be needed.

It is worth remembering that vitamin D, ‘the sunshine vitamin,’ plays an important role in calcium absorption. However, it is difficult to get adequate amounts of this from food. When the strength of the sun isn’t enough to give you the correct amount, it is important to make sure you are taking a regular vitamin D supplement.

If you have concerns about the nutritional adequacy of your diet, you are pregnant, breast-feeding, are young or elderly or have an underlying medical condition, refer to your GP or a registered dietitian for advice and guidance.

Green leafy veg

What are the best vegan food sources of calcium?

1. Plant-based ‘milk’ alternatives

Plant-based ‘milk’ alternatives are often fortified with calcium and vitamin D, however, organic versions and some brands are not, so always check labels.

A 200ml portion of fortified ‘milk’ alternative provides:

  • Unsweetened almond milk (calcium fortified) = 240mg
  • Soya milk (calcium fortified) = 240mg
  • Oat milk (calcium fortified) = 240mg
  • Coconut milk (calcium fortified) = 240mg

2. Plant-based yogurt alternatives

Similarly, a 125g portion of a plant-based yogurt alternative, fortified with calcium and vitamin D, provides:

  • Plain soya yoghurt (calcium fortified) = 150mg
  • Coconut yoghurt (calcium fortified) = 150mg

3. Green leafy vegetables

Often cited as being useful food sources of calcium, it’s worth remembering that the calcium these vegetables provide is less bio-available. So, although an 80g portion of each cooked green leafy veg contains the following you may not be accessing it all:

  • Spinach = 128mg
  • Kale = 120mg
  • Turnip greens/tops = 110g
  • Okra = 96mg
  • Mustard Greens = 94mg
  • Purple sprouting broccoli = 88mg
  • Pak choi = 74mg
  • Spring greens = 60mg
  • Swiss Chard = 46mg
  • Broccoli = 28mg
  • Brussels sprouts = 16mg

4. Fresh fruit

Fruit, including rhubarb, is rich in oxalates, so may limit the amount of calcium you are able to absorb. However, an 80g portion of each fruit provides:

  • Blackberries = 33mg
  • Rhubarb (cooked) = 26mg
  • Kiwi = 20mg
  • Oranges = 19mg
  • Tangerines = 14mg
  • Pear = 6mg
  • Apple = 4mg
Dried figs

5. Dried fruit

Dried fruits, like other fruit and veg, are a source of oxalates so may limit calcium intake. However, a 30g serving of each dried fruit provides:

  • Figs = 69mg
  • Apricots = 28mg
  • Dates = 14mg
  • Raisins = 14mg

5. Beans and pulses

Soaking and cooking helps reduce levels of anti-nutrients, like oxalates, in beans, pulses as well as fruit and vegetables. An 80g portion of each cooked bean or pulse provides:

  • Soya beans = 66mg
  • Chickpeas = 37mg
  • Aduki beans = 31mg
  • Kidney beans = 30mg
  • Broad beans = 14mg
  • Black-eyed beans = 17mg
  • Lentils = 18mg

6. Nuts and seeds

Nuts and seeds can be useful sources of minerals, including calcium, a 30g portion provides:

  • Sesame seeds = 201mg
  • Chia seeds = 189mg
  • Almonds, whole kernels = 72mg
  • Brazil nuts = 51mg
  • Sunflower seeds = 33mg
  • Walnuts = 28mg
  • Pumpkin seeds = 12mg
  • Pine nuts = 3mg

7. Baked products

In the UK, white and brown breads are required by law to be fortified with calcium. Here is how an 80g portion (roughly two thick slices) of each bread compares:

  • Wheatgerm bread = 170mg
  • Malted wheat bread = 167mg
  • Brown bread = 149mg
  • White bread = 142mg
  • Naan bread = 138mg
  • Seeded bread = 120mg
  • White pitta bread = 110mg
  • Wholemeal bread = 85mg

8. Dried herbs

Dried herbs are a useful way to increase your intake of micronutrients including minerals such as calcium. One teaspoon of each dried herb provides:

  • Dried basil = 63mg
  • Dried marjoram = 60mg
  • Dried thyme = 57mg
  • Dried dill = 53mg
  • Celery seeds = 53mg
  • Dried mixed herbs = 50mg
  • Dried sage = 50mg
  • Dried oregano = 48mg

9. Other vegan foods

A 100g serving of the following foods, on average (depending on the brand), provides:

  • Tofu (calcium fortified) = 350mg
  • Vegan sausages = 136mg
  • Tempeh = 120mg
  • Veggie burger = 100mg

Overall, what is the best way to get calcium when following a vegan diet?

  • Include a variety of these plant foods in your daily diet and focus particularly on fortified plant-based milks, yogurts and breads as well as calcium-set tofu.
  • From October to March take a vitamin D supplement supplying 10mcg daily.
  • If you are planning a pregnancy, pregnant or breast-feeding, or you are responsible for the diet of a young or elderly relative refer to your GP or a registered dietician for further advice and guidance.

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This article was reviewed on 21 March 2024 by Kerry Torrens.

Nicola Shubrook is a nutritional therapist and works with both private clients and the corporate sector. She is an accredited member of the British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy (BANT) and the Complementary & Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC). Find out more at urbanwellness.co.uk.


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