Where does calcium come from in a vegan diet?
The same place cows get it from for their milk, which is the plants they eat. Calcium is a mineral that plants get from the soil and in turn, animals get it by eating the plants. Vegans and vegetarians can get plenty of calcium by eating whole foods, like leafy vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds.
Being that it’s a mineral – element number 20 and symbol Ca on the periodic table – this is not something that can be created (or destroyed) by humans, animals, or plants. Heat can’t destroy it either, meaning cooked vs. raw calcium sources will not affect the content.
The myth of milk
This mineral is ubiquitous in the earth and if we really needed to get it from drinking milk, did you ever wonder why no mammals suck their mommy’s breasts past infancy?
Or the breasts of another animal, for that matter.
Mammals don’t drink milk when their age is the equivalent of a toddler, teen, or adult. Yet they seem to be plenty healthy and have strong bones!
Just consider what elephants eat and how strong they are. They’re getting calcium from the leaves they eat and so can you!
The powerful gorilla? Their diet is 97% plant-based. The other 3% is termites and caterpillars, no milk or meat. (1)
While it’s true that milk contains calcium, it’s not even the most potent natural source.
And that makes logical sense when you think about what animals eat.
People also forget that cow milk is meant to fatten up and accelerate the growth of baby calves. Makes sense as a baby, but when you’re an adult, the only growth going on is in your waistline!
Because milk is naturally full of estrogen and other hormones to spur the growth of the baby calves, gynecomastia (man boobs) is believed to be a possible side effect of dairy consumption, among several others.
The highest natural food source of calcium is not milk. It’s a spice known as savory. A single ounce provides 60% of the RDI and even greater percentage for other countries, since the US has the highest requirement for calcium at 1,000 mg daily.
If you expand out to more processed foods – and yes, milk from a cow is processed – then you still get vegan foods as the winner.
Some types of tofu provide 213% of the daily value, for a serving of 100g (3.5 ounce). Whether it’s skim, 1%, 2%, or full fat cow milk, you won’t get that much calcium when comparing an equal weight.
Now there are vegan calcium supplements if you want them and they’re reviewed below, after the list of foods.
Supplements usually aren’t necessary though, unless you have a problem with mineral absorption, or if your doctor is recommending supplementation because of a bone fracture, osteoporosis, etc.
How we compiled our ranking
We could provide a vegan calcium food chart, however that can be misleading if there are different serving sizes for each item. For consistency and practicality, here’s how we put this list together:
- All nutrition facts are directly from the USDA National Nutrient Database. That means you can verify all values yourself if you don’t believe us. (2)
- Amounts are based on the calcium content in a 100g serving, which is about 3.5 ounces. For some foods you may eat a larger portion and for others, it would only be a small fraction of that amount, especially with spices and herbs. Since we are trying to show you calcium concentration in plant-based foods, using the same weight for all is the best way to do that.
- Multiple forms of the same food are not included. If dried basil contains a lot, then obviously the fresh does too. You don’t need the fresh and dry weight for every spice, veggie, and fruit. Nor do you need ten types of tofu or twenty types of beans. In fact, all beans are relatively high in calcium, which is why we only included a few examples.
Because of these, it’s not an absolute ranking of the top 30 but rather a real world, more practical guide of the top plant-based foods to get this essential mineral.
30 vegan calcium rich foods
Per 100g (3.5 oz) measurement, here’s how much calcium there is in the following plant-based foods:
1. Dried savory – 2,132 mg (213% of DV)
For comparison, the same weight of 2% milk from a cow provides just 120 mg of calcium, which is 12% of the daily value. Even whole dry milk (powdered) can’t compete with the concentration in savory, as it has 1,170 mg (118% of DV).
Also known as summer savory, this spice and herb is used in a way similar to sage. Meat-eaters use it on turkey, goose, duck, and pork. You can use it on vegan meats.
Believe it or not, the USDA does not publish nutrition facts for the fresh savory leaves but based on patterns seen with similar plants, 100g of the fresh would probably have around 90% less calcium, or 213 mg, which is still 21% of your daily value.
2. Basil spice – 2,113 mg (211% of DV)
A close second is dried basil. This is one spice you might actually eat a lot of in one meal. Think of pesto!
The same weight of fresh will have 180g (18% of DV). That’s because the fresh leaves contain lots of water weight and therefore, less of everything else.
3. Marjoram spice – 1,990 mg (199% of DV)
The USDA doesn’t report data for fresh marjoram but it likely follows a similar trend as basil.
4. Thyme spice – 1,890 mg (189% of DV)
For the same weight, the fresh contains 410 mg (41% of DV).
5. Celery seed – 1,770 mg (177% of DV)
These seeds are typically used as a spice, but you may want to make them a starring ingredient!
With a 3.5 ounce serving you also would get 18g of protein, 28% of your daily value of vitamin C, and a whopping 249% for iron.
Yeah, iron deficiencies are another myth. Vegans have no problem getting iron in their diet!
6. Oregano spice – 1,576 mg (158% of DV)
No data on the fresh from the USDA.
7. Rosemary spice – 1,280 mg (128% of DV)
The same weight of fresh rosemary yields 320 mg (32% of DV).
We could easily turn this into a list of just 30 spices so after this one, we will only mention them sparingly!
8. Sesame seeds – 980 mg (98% of DV)
If you were to eat this amount in on sitting (which we don’t recommend) it would entail 573 calories. Sounds awful, until you consider that it contains 18g of protein, 81% of your DV for iron, and 41% for fiber. Not exactly healthy, but it would be healthier than a cheeseburger and provide you with more calcium and iron!
9. Caraway seeds – 690 mg (69%)
It’s not just another spice that’s always used sparingly.
There’s a traditional British cake recipe called caraway seed cake that actually uses a lot.
10. Tofu – 680 mg (68% of DV)
Because soybeans are a rich source, tofu will always be high regardless of how it’s made. Though one of the most common ways it’s made is with the help of calcium sulfate during the boiling process, which only further boosts the content. That form of the mineral is derived from the earth, not animal sources.
11. Chia seeds – 630 mg (63% of DV)
This amount also packs 16g of protein and 38g of fiber.
Rich in omega 3 is among the other chia health benefits.
12. Grape leaves – 360 mg (36% of DV)
Everyone knows the Middle Eastern dish of the same name, but this nutritious leaf can also be used separately in things such as salads.
13. Onion powder – 360 mg (36% of DV)
Sure, you’re unlikely to use 3.5 ounces per meal, though when making [good] pasta and vegan Chex Mix, there is a decent amount that ends ups in each serving.
14. Carob flour – 350 mg (35% of DV)
Is carob the same thing as chocolate?
No, but it is similar and often used as a healthier alternative. It has virtually no fat and is packed with pectin, which is a soluble fiber. Unlike bitter cocoa powder, carob flour or powder is naturally sweet.
Try baking with it. Recipes for muffins, cookies, cakes, and vegan protein bars can all incorporate carob.
15. Almonds – 260 mg (26% of DV)
Almonds are the winner among the nuts with most calcium. After that, the richest are hazelnuts, walnuts, and Brazil nuts, in that order. Pistachios and peanuts, with the latter being a legume, also have fair amounts.
Just make sure you know how many almonds are in almond milk that you buy. Most brands contain almost none!
16. Flaxseeds – 260 mg (26% of DV)
With more omega 3 than salmon, these little guys may seem like the perfect raw superfood. You should be aware, especially if you’re a guy, that flax is the highest phytoestrogen source. Even more than soy.
17. Fresh peppermint – 240 mg (24% of DV)
The USDA doesn’t provide data for the dry version but you can bet it’s probably comparable to dry basil or oregano.
18. White beans – 240 mg (24%)
Also known as Great Northern, they’re bigger than navy beans but smaller than cannelloni. If you get them mixed up don’t worry, because all of these high in calcium and taste similar.
19. Natto – 220 mg (22%)
This a traditional Japanese food of fermented soybeans. If eaten raw, it’s rich in the probiotic Bacillus.
20. Cooked collard greens – 210 mg (21% of DV)
Steaming of boiling them down does deplete some vitamin content, though it’s an easier way to eat a lot of greens at once.
21. Raw mustard greens – 210 mg (21% of DV)
If you prefer raw vegetables, mustard greens are the densest source of calcium among the leafy greens.
22. Raw kale – 200 mg (20% of DV)
Not far behind is kale. Both curly and lacinato (dinosaur) kale have a high amount.
23. Raw turnip greens – 190 mg (19% of DV)
On an ounce for ounce basis, who would have thought a salad can contain more calcium than milk!
24. Turmeric spice – 180 mg (18% of DV)
Calcium rich vegetarian food in India is not hard to come by. Even without the cheese paneer, the dishes they call strict vegetarian (vegan) make heavy use of chickpeas, beans, leafy greens, and turmeric. All of which contain high concentrations of calcium.
The healthiest Indian food to order at restaurants should provide you with a respectable amount of calcium, protein, antioxidants, and other key nutrients.
25. Raw garlic – 180 mg (18% of DV)
Italian food is rich, too. Aside from the basil, oregano, and others listed above, you also have garlic.
Even with all their water weight, the raw cloves have a higher density than cow milk!
26. Teff flour – 180 mg (18% of DV)
This gluten free grain is what gives Ethiopian bread that spongy texture, which makes it the perfect wheat substitute for baking. With plenty of protein, iron and manganese to boot, it’s a superfood through and through.
27. Fenugreek seeds – 180 mg (18% of DV)
You may think this is a spice but given that there’s strong evidence that fenugreek seeds may boost testosterone levels in males, some men are chomping on fistfuls these days.
28. Dried figs – 160 mg (16% of DV)
Sweet, chewy, and slightly gooey, if you like caramel you will love the taste of dried figs. While they are high in sugar, it’s a lower glycemic and higher antioxidant treat than most processed desserts.
29. Arugula – 160 mg (16% of DV)
If you’re not digging the roughage of hard leafy greens, an arugula salad makes for an easier to digest alternative.
30. Hazelnuts – 150 mg (15% of DV)
After almonds, these are the next best nut for calcium. Since this nut tends to be less expensive, hazelnut milks sometimes have more of the named ingredient than almond milks.
3 vegan calcium supplements reviewed
1. Garden of Life mykind Organics plant calcium
With 800 mg per serving, it’s 80% of the United States and Canadian RDI. It’s 114% for most other countries, like the United Kingdom, which has a 700 mg daily recommendation. Japan and others are even lower, with their official optimal amount being 600 mg per day .
The calcium in it is derived from organic algae and best of all, you also get some magnesium and the trace minerals strontium and vanadium. There’s 1,000 IU of plant-derived vitamin D3 (from lichens) and 80 mcg of vitamin K2 (MK-7 from natto). Most of those are believed to play a vital role in boosting calcium absorption.
Non-GMO, USDA certified organic, and gluten free.
If you can afford it, this is the best supplement hands down. You can get it on Amazon in a 90 or 180 tablet bottle.
2. Deva Cal-Mag Plus
This is a brand that only makes vegan supplements, so you don’t have to worry about anything in it being animal derived.
Per 3 tablet serving, you’re getting 1,000 mg of calcium in the form of malate, amino acid chelate, and citrate. While no one can say with certainty which is the best, there is evidence to suggest each offer advantages for bioavailability. Since proving the best one is practically impossible, just hedge your bets and use all of them!
Additionally, you’re getting the full daily value (or more) of vitamin K, C, and D. The latter is as D2 which has lower bioavailability (an estimated 75% less) but may work as good as D3 if you take enough.
Check out the reviews on Amazon for Deva and as you will see, it’s among the favorites for this mineral.
3. Vitamin Code Raw Calcium
This is a unique supplement because no others claim to be raw.
Even though the heat of cooking or processing won’t change the element calcium on the molecular level, heat can change the other organic (carbon-based) mixed or attached to it. In theory, that could decrease bioavailability, if the heat destroys a nutrient that helps with it.
Even if it doesn’t, the heat will destroy vitamins such as C, B-types, and others. Antioxidants and healthy fats will also be damaged.
So yes, there are legit reasons to choose a raw vegan calcium supplement like this one.
But there is a catch. It contains vitamin D3 whose source is not specified. Most likely it comes from lanolin, which is washed from the fur of sheep.
It’s unlikely any animals were harmed in the process, as sheep have to be sheared as part of their routine care and the lanolin is a leftover byproduct of that. It’s just being re-used in another form. Regardless, even though the calcium is vegan, the vitamin D3 most likely is not if you abide by the strictest definition.
Some though do consider it okay, just as some eat honey even though it’s derived from bees.
In short, it’s definitely vegetarian and as to whether or not you think it’s okay to eat this form of D3 is a decision you will have to make yourself. The vegans here at Superfoodly do use lanolin-derived D3 supplements because the only plant-based source of D3 are lichens. Isolating D3 from lichens is a patented process that makes those supplements extremely expensive, at least if you want a sizeable dosage.
You can buy Raw Calcium on Amazon in a 120 capsule bottle.
These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.