Q: If I follow a plant-based diet, how can I meet my calcium needs?
A: A plant-based diet includes mostly, not only, plant foods, so you can get most of your calcium from dairy products. These provide calcium in concentrated amounts in a well-absorbed form. Current federal recommendations for adults of 1000 to 1200 milligrams (mg) of calcium per day can be met by a balanced variety of healthy foods that includes 2.5 to 3 standard servings of milk, yogurt or cheese.
However, you can choose plant-based options for some or all of those servings if you prefer. One standard dairy serving is 1 cup milk or yogurt or 1 1/2 ounces cheese. You can get this amount of calcium from 1 cup of calcium-fortified orange juice, calcium-fortified soy-milk or soy yogurt, or 1 serving of calcium-fortified bread or waffles. Tofu is another option, though the calcium content varies. Check the label, because a four-ounce serving (about a half-cup) can range from 80 to over 400 milligrams (equal to about a quarter-cup to more than a cup of milk). Fortunately, tofu’s calcium is easily absorbed, too.
A number of dark green leafy vegetables provide calcium, but these alone will not give you enough, especially because the body’s ability to absorb calcium from vegetables is somewhat limited. To get the calcium equivalent to a serving of dairy products requires 1/2 cup of Chinese cabbage, 1-1 1/2 cups kale or bok choy, more than 2 cups of broccoli, and 8 cups of cooked spinach.
Karen Collins, MS, RDN, CDN – American Institute for Cancer Research