The Calcium Challenge

January 9, 2013

My mom, in true mom fashion, still wants to make sure I’m eating healthy, sleeping enough and getting adequate vitamins and minerals.  While she was in Boston over the holidays I must have heard her say ‘make sure you’re getting enough calcium’ about 50 times. To be honest, she’s been saying this for years and I’ve sort of brushed it under the rug assuming that the copious amounts of cheese I was consuming were enough. Now that I am eating less and less dairy, I find myself wondering where my calcium is actually coming from. I’ve never tracked it before so I really had no idea.

Before I get into my findings I’ll preface by saying that I am not a medical doctor nor do I pretend to be. Everything below is based on my own research and understanding of said research (which is debatable). As it pertains to your own diet, please use your best judgement. Okay, now that I’m done sounding like a disclaimer for a drug ad, let’s move on.

I know I’m not the only lady (or man) out there who assumes they’ve got this calcium thing covered but aren’t totally sure how. Hopefully this helps.

How much should we be getting?

Most sources recommend 1000 mg/day for all the below important bodily functions.

Calcium Infographic

[Source]

Where can I get it from?

A glass of milk right? Isn’t that what every kid would say if you asked?

The most common misconception is that you should get your calcium from traditional dairy. But, I’ve read enough to know that dairy isn’t the only source of calcium. Many plant-based foods are great options as well. You can get high levels of calcium from non dairy milk and tofu but certain vegetables, seeds and beans are also good sources such as artichokes, kale (hooray!), sesame seeds, chia seeds and hummus.

Calcium Protein Sources

[Source]

There is also the option of calcium supplements but for those of us with family histories of kidney stones, taking supplements isn’t necessarily the smartest idea. Plus, I believe it’s best to get your nutrients from whole foods whenever possible so I won’t talk supplements here.

Below are a couple good lists of plant-based sources of calcium.

One Green Planet

Harvard Health Services (scroll down a bit for the plant sources)

Vegetarians In Paradise (scroll to bottom of page)

What’s my average intake?

Like I mentioned above, I had no idea where a normal day’s diet would put me on the intake scale so I spent a few days doing calculations without changing anything. Here are my totals:

Day 1 900 mg

Day 2 800 mg

Day 3 600 mg

Day 1 and 2 weren’t horrible but they weren’t 1000 mg. They also both happened to include a soy latte. Although this is fairly typical for me, it’s not an everyday occurrence. I have Starbucks 2-3 times a week, mainly on weekends. On days when I don’t have coffee I have tea without milk, which offers 0% of my daily calcium. Without the latte I am severely under my calcium quota. Day 3 reflects this.

The Challenge!

With my new knowledge in hand, I thought it might be fun to create a challenge.

(If you haven’t figured it out already I like to make up fake challenges for myself, see the Sweet Potato Challenge of 2012, ha).

Can I consistently, key word, consistently, get 1000 mg of calcium a day eating only plant-based foods?

Over the next few weeks I’ll focus on my calcium intake more closely. I’ll try to share how I’ve better incorporated it into my day-to-day diet. I’ll work on some calcium rich recipes that will help close the daily deficiency in my diet and possibly yours and I’ll hopefully quell some of my mom’s worries. 🙂

Anyone else up for the challenge?

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11 Comments

  • Reply nicole January 9, 2013 at 1:52 pm

    I’m in! Actually, I only really have milk in my tea or coffee, which isn’t much … but I take a supplement! However, I’d like to be more mindful of getting calcium from the food I eat. As I consume a ton of leafy greens I imagine it’s decent but of course would like to add in more (and my mom mentions calcium to me a lot, too! :)).

    • Reply Lisa Horvath January 9, 2013 at 6:14 pm

      Yay! I definitely have not been very mindful. At least you’ve been taking a supplement. I figure our leafy green consumption (which is probably more than the average person’s 🙂 ) gets me about 50% of my daily. Now just need the other 50%. I owe you an email, coming soon!

  • Reply Blueberry, Banana Grapefruit Breakfast Smoothie | quinoa, kale & exhale January 10, 2013 at 11:17 am

    […] ← The Calcium Challenge […]

  • Reply Terry Todd-Ingram January 11, 2013 at 10:41 pm

    How is the challenge going? I have tracked my calcium intake from the food I consume for years. I have been on a plant based whole foods vegan, gluten free diet for over a year now. I did a lot of research on the subject as well. I have to find the source for you but I brought it up with my doctor and he knew of this and agreed with me. It seems that if you are on a vegan diet and not consuming animal products you do not require as much calcium in your diet as people eating animal products which includes dairy products. It seems that animal products require a lot of calcium from us in order to digest them. You can eat a mere 300 mg per day from greens and other veggies easily which is what is recommended if you are eating a healthy whole food vegan diet. The source of this information for me was found first in “The China Study” by Colin Campbell,PhD and then reinforced in “Eat to Live” by Joel Fuhrman,M.D. How are you liking the winter weather in Boston? I have a hard time when it is 35 degrees out and I am so whimpy I can’t walk the dogs when it is below 40 degrees. > )

    • Reply Lisa Horvath January 12, 2013 at 1:51 pm

      Hi Terry, it’s going well now that I’m paying attention to it. It definitely takes effort to get in the full 1000mg. I hadn’t heard that you don’t need as much if you’re vegan. I will have to research that. I know regular dairy calcium is harder to absorb then plant-based. The weather isn’t too bad here right now. In the high 40s but I hear you, taking the dog out in the 30s and 20s is painful!!

  • Reply angieeatspeace January 11, 2013 at 11:54 pm

    I want to be more mindful of this.

    My mom is the same way, she always thinks I am deficient in something. Once, I tripped down the stairs at a museum and she told me it was probably because I don’t take vitamins. : /

    • Reply Lisa Horvath January 12, 2013 at 1:48 pm

      They have to worry about everything, it’s their job 🙂 But this one is valid. I was definitely deficient in calcium. It’s too important to ignore.

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