Calcium is essential for a healthy body and healthy life. It is vitally important you get Enough Calcium In Your Gluten-Free, Vegan Diet. Vegan (and gluten-free) or not, many of us do not get enough calcium. Here’s How To Make Sure You Get Enough Calcium In Your Gluten-Free, Vegan Diet.
What Is Calcium And Why Do You Need It???
Calcium is the fifth most abundant element in the earth’s crust and is one element in compounds such as limestone, chalk and marble. It is the most abundant mineral in the human body, accounting for around 2% of total body weight. Calcium is needed by our bodies for normal growth and development. It plays an important structural role in maintaining bone health and strength: 99% of our calcium is deposited in the bones and teeth. The other 1% is responsible for a range of important metabolic functions that regulate muscle contraction, heartbeat, blood clotting and functioning of the nervous system.
A lack of calcium could lead to rickets in children and osteomalacia or osteoporosis in later life.
How Much Calcium Do You Need In Your Diet
There is no international consensus on the optimum or safe amount of calcium in our diets. In the UK, the reference nutrient intake value (RNI) is used (similar to the Recommended Daily Amount (RDA) which was used previously). The RNI for a nutrient is the amount of that nutrient that is sufficient for 97.5% of the people in a given group. The current RNI value for calcium in adults aged between 19 and 50 years of age is 700 mg per day. In the US, the recommended daily intake is slightly higher at 1000 mg per day. However, in many countries such as India, China, Japan, Gambia and Peru the average daily intake of calcium may be as low as 300 mg.
You should be able to get all the calcium you need by eating a varied and balanced diet (vegan, gluten-free or not). If you take calcium supplements, you should not take too much as it could be harmful. Taking 1500 mg of calcium or less a day is unlikely to cause any harm.
Symptoms Of Calcium Deficiency
To function correctly the body obtains calcium in two ways: from our diet OR from our bones. When the diet does not provide sufficient levels, calcium is ‘borrowed’ (reabsorbed) from the bones in order to restore blood levels and maintain calcium-dependent biological functions. Calcium in our bones is reabsorbed and replaced continuously as old bone cells break down and new ones form. If adequate calcium is supplied in the diet, bone levels are restored, but if the diet fails to supply enough calcium or causes calcium leaching from the bones, bone loss persists.
When you don’t get enough calcium in your diet (or you have a health condition that affects how you process calcium and other vitamins and minerals) you are increase your risk of developing disorders like:
- Calcium deficiency disease (hypocalcemia)
The symptoms of rickets are usually the visible bowing of the legs in childhood. Rickets was a disease of the past in the west but has sadly, become more prevalent in recent years.
Symptoms of osteoporosis (and its precursor osteopenia – where bone density levels are lower than normal) are minimal. The first many people know of osteoporosis is a broken bone, often as the result of a stress related injury or minor knock.
Hypcocalcemia is caused by low calcium levels in the blood serum. Mildly low levels, that develop slowly often have no symptoms. Otherwise symptoms may include numbness, muscle spasms, seizures, confusion, or cardiac arrest. Hypocalcemia is commonly caused by hypoparathyroidism and vitamin D deficiency.
Concerned You’re Not Getting Enough Calcium?
If you’re concerned you’re not getting enough calcium in your gluten-free, vegan life you could keep a food diary; logging everything you eat and drink. You can then work out exactly how much calcium you are getting on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. You should keep the diary for quite a few weeks for it to be representative of your intake.
I have a FREE Food Diary you can download. Just click the button below to sign-up and download.
How To Make Sure You Get Enough Calcium In Your Gluten-Free, Vegan Diet
A balanced diet is the best way To Make Sure You Get Enough Calcium In Your Gluten-Free, Vegan Diet. However, getting enough calcium in you diet is not as simple as eating calcium rich foods. The amount of calcium present in a particular food is just one factor. The bioavailability of calcium in food is important. This is how much calcium is actually available for absorption into the body from the food. For example, spinach is not a good source of calcium in the diet as although it contains a relatively high amount of calcium, it is bound to a substance called oxalate which hinders calcium absorption so it is important to obtain calcium from low-oxalate green vegetables. Grains, nuts and seeds contain a substance called phytic acid which hinders calcium absorption but it’s believed to be a minor influence. Caffeine and smoking also reduce calcium absorption.
Vitamin D is an essential partner for calcium absorption. The body requires vitamin D to absorb and retain calcium in the bones. Vitamin D is ideally synthesised in the skin following exposure to sunlight but in winter it needs to be supplemented. Without sufficient vitamin D, calcium deficiency can occur even if the diet provides enough calcium.
Magnesium, potassium, vitamins A, B group, C and K are all required for good bone health. A healthy diet that includes at least five servings a day of fruit and vegetables should optimise the intake of these and other micronutrients required.
To Make Sure You Get Enough Calcium In Your Gluten-Free, Vegan Diet is also not so simple if you have health issues that affect the absorption of calcium.
The British Dietetic Association has a useful Food Fact Sheet: Calcium which breaks down the amounts of calcium required by different groups and details the amount of calcium in some foods (NB this is not a vegan factsheet).
How To Make Sure You Get Enough Calcium In Your Gluten-Free, Vegan Diet – Food
There are many plant-based sources of calcium. Good sources include non-oxalate (see below)
- Dark green leafy vegetables such as broccoli, kale, spring greens, cabbage, pak choi, parsley and watercress
- Calcium-set tofu
- Pulses, including soya beans, kidney beans, chick peas, baked beans, broad beans, lentils, peas
- Dried fruits such as figs and dates
- Nuts (particularly almonds and Brazil nuts)
- Seeds including sesame seeds and tahini (sesame seed paste).
Other fruit and vegetable sources of calcium include parsnips, swede, turnips, lemons, oranges, olives and molasses.
How To Make Sure You Get Enough Calcium In Your Gluten-Free, Vegan Diet – Recipes
How To Make Sure You Get Enough Calcium In Your Gluten-Free, Vegan Diet – Fortified Foods
Fortified foods are a good additional source of calcium. Once that you probably have all the time without realising it’s a calcium rich food source is… fortified plant milk. My favourite fortified plant milk is essential Waitrose longlife unsweetened soya drink*.
* Affiliate link.
How To Make Sure You Get Enough Calcium In Your Gluten-Free, Vegan Diet – Supplements
Many of us need to supplement with calcium for lots of different reasons. There are lots of different types of gluten-free, vegan calcium supplements available, in different formats. There are supplements that contain:
- Just Calcium – Chewable Calcium Tablets*
- A combination of minerals – Calcium Magnesium and Zinc Caplets*
- Or something a little different – Calcium Marine Multimineral Complex*
* Affiliate link
How Do You Make Sure You Get Enough Calcium In Your Gluten-Free, Vegan Diet?
There are lots of tips and tricks to Get Enough Calcium In Your Gluten-Free, Vegan Diet – this is my tiny selection of thoughts…
If you have any questions or concerns about your health speak to your GP or a dietitian. Keeping a food diary for a few weeks will give you a solid foundation for discussions with medical professionals.
What do you do to make sure you Get Enough Calcium In Your Gluten-Free, Vegan Diet? Drop a comment below or ping me on social media! 🙂