Calcium is a mineral which is needed by the body to help keep bones strong and help with other important functions. Calcium is stored primarily in the teeth and bones, keeping them strong and hard. It also regulates muscle contraction, which includes the heart and plays a major role in blood clotting. The body needs calcium for nerves to transfer messages from the brain to every part of the body.
Calcium is essential in building stronger denser bones when we are young and for keeping bones strong as we age. The recommended daily intake is between 200 mg per day for infants to 1200 mg per day for adults 71 years and older. The peak recommended intake is 1300mg per day between the ages of 9 and 18.
For most eating a standard American diet the daily requirements are met by dairy products such as meat and cheese. Many think that is the only source of calcium and wonder how those of us eating a vegan raw food diet can get an adequate daily amount. You might be surprised to find that it is actually quite easy.
There are compounds in plants that bind to calcium and prevent you from absorbing it
Green Leafy Vegetables
Dark leafy greens such as spinach, collard greens, Swiss chard, broccoli, kale and dandelion greens all contain a fair amount of calcium. Other sources of calcium include Chinese cabbage, beet greens, leaf and romaine lettuce, turnip greens and more. Dandelion greens have 10% of the RDA per cup while kale has 9% RDA per cup. One thing to keep in mind is that there are compounds in plants that bind to calcium and keep you from absorbing it. Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium so you want to make sure you are getting adequate amounts of this also, either through good old sunshine or a supplement. Although you want to eat your greens it is recommended that you vary your sources of calcium.
Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds are a great source of calcium. Sesame seeds are one of the highest sources. One tablespoon contains about 90 mg and a cup provides just over 1400 mg. Sesame seeds are great to sprinkle over salads. You can also get this same benefit in tahini, which is a Mediterranean sesame paste. Flax seeds are a fair source of calcium also providing about 430 mg per cup. Chia seeds offer roughly 18% RDA in just a one ounce serving and these are excellent to add to smoothies and salad dressings.
As for nuts, a cup of whole, raw almonds contains 380 mg while Brazil nuts contain about 215 mg. Snacking on these throughout the day or adding a scoop or two of almond butter to your diet can provide a big portion of your daily recommended amount. The nuts are high in fat, albeit good fat, so don’t overdo. As I mentioned with the leafy greens you want to get your calcium from a variety of sources.
Fruit offers a decent amount of calcium which adds up considering how much fruit the average person on a raw food diet tends to eat. A medium size orange has about 5% of the RDA while a lemon has around 7%. Papaya has around 7% also and is a great addition to a green smoothie, where you can add this to some of your leafy greens.
If you can get your hands on young Thai coconuts they are an excellent source of calcium. The average coconut has 10-18% RDA. While you are probably not going to eat an entire coconut, adding it to smoothies or cutting the meat into noodles are delicious ways to contribute to your overall calcium intake.
Vegetables and Sprouted Legumes
It might surprise you to learn that a cucumber contains about 5% RDA of calcium while carrots and celery offer approximately 2% per stalk. This might seem relatively small, but it adds up with the amount of vegetables us raw foodists eat.
Many people ask about taking a supplement but in general you should not need one if you are eating a variety of the sources mentioned about daily. Also don’t forget to get outside and soak up some vitamin D to help you with the absorption of the calcium that you are taking in. Now that you know, don’t let anyone give you that old song and dance about needing dairy for your daily dose of calcium. Strong bones are important all throughout our lives, but especially as we get older. So lay a solid foundation now.