Firstly, What is Calcium?
Calcium is a chemical element that is essential for living organisms, including humans. It is the most abundant mineral in the body and vital for good health.
We need to consume a certain amount of calcium to build and maintain strong bones and healthy communication between the brain and other parts of the body. Calcium is found naturally in many foods; it is also added to certain products, and supplements are available.
But Isn't Calcium Only Found in Dairy Foods?
No. Calcium deficiency is very dangerous and consuming adequate amounts of calcium is essential to maintaining strong and healthy bones. However, before you go reaching for a tub of dairy yogurt, or a bottle of calcium supplements, you might be surprised to learn just how many foods that don't come from animal sources are high in calcium.
One of my favourite quotes from Dr. Michael Klaper is, "the purpose of cow's milk is to turn a 65 pound calf into a 400 pound cow as rapidly as possible. Cow's milk is baby calf growth fluid. It's for baby calves. Are you a baby calf? If not, then don't drink baby calf growth fluid. There's nothing in it people need."
Calcium Rich Vegan Sources
Whether you prefer to shop at Coles, Woolies, independent supermarkets, health food shops or farmers markets — non dairy sources of calcium are cheap, delicious and easy to find!
The good news is that there's plenty of calcium in plant-based foods. In fact, kale has more calcium per gram than milk does. Other dark, leafy greens are also great sources of calcium, as is broccoli. Many nuts, seeds and legumes contain calcium and a lot of soy milks are calcium-fortified.
More calcium rich vegan foods are:
- seaweeds, such as kelp, hijiki, and wakame
- nuts and seeds, including pistachio, sesame, almonds, and hazelnuts
- leafy greens
- dandelion leaves
- many fortified breakfast cereals (vegan ones of course)
Calcium plays a range of roles in the body and is not only important for bone health, like the dairy industry will have you believe. These include:
1. Bone Health
Around 99 percent of the calcium in the human body is found in the bones and teeth; it is essential for the development, growth, and maintenance of bone. Calcium continues strengthening the bones of humans until they reach the age of 20-25 when bone density is highest. After that age, bone density declines, but calcium continues to help maintain bones and slow down bone density loss, which is a natural part of the ageing process.
2. Muscle Contractions
Calcium regulates muscle contraction, including the beating of the heart muscle. When a nerve stimulates a muscle, calcium is released; it helps the proteins in muscle carry out the work of contraction. The muscle only relaxes again once the calcium is pumped back out of the muscle.
3. Blood Clotting
Calcium plays a key role in normal blood coagulation (clotting). The process of clotting is complex with a number of steps; a host of chemicals are involved. Calcium plays a part in a number of these steps.
4. Co-Captain to Other Functions
Calcium is a co-factor for many enzymes; this means that without the presence of calcium, these important enzymes cannot work as efficiently.
3. Feskanich D, Willett WC, Stampfer MJ, Colditz GA. "Milk, dietary calcium, and bone fractures in women: a 12-year prospective study", Am J Public Health. 1997; 87:992-97.