Many of us grew up being told that we need to drink cow’s milk to help us grow. Despite all the evidence showing that we don’t need dairy, and linking cow’s milk with a wide range of illnesses and diseases including an increased risk of bone fracture – the myth still persists.
Calcium is not only a building block for bones, but helps to maintain muscle, nerve and hormone function. Adults need about 700 milligrams of calcium per day. Children and teenagers need slightly more.
But did you know that around 70 per cent of the world’s population are lactose intolerant? They lose the enzyme needed to break down the sugar (lactose) in milk after weaning. So, most people, from eight to 80, get all the calcium they need from plants!
The good news is, calcium is found readily in lots of healthy plant-based foods such as:
Whether you’re a tofu novice or you can’t get enough of the stuff, tofu is a winner when it comes to calcium. Just half a pack (100g), steamed or fried, contains 58 per cent of your recommended daily amount. You could throw it in a tofu tahini stir fry, or add scrambled tofu to your weekend brunch.
Just make sure you buy one that’s made with calcium sulphate – many of the major supermarket brands are.
2. Fortified plant milks
Most likely you already use plant milks such as soya, almond or oat, in your hot drinks or on your cereal. Well, the good news is, as long as they’re fortified, they are a great source of calcium!
On average, one 200ml glass of fortified plant milk provides a third of your daily recommended amount.
3. Ready Brek
Perhaps surprisingly, childhood favourite porridge Ready Brek, is packed with calcium – a perfect breakfast option for children or teenagers.
One bowl of Ready Brek (30g), contains almost 60 per cent of your daily calcium allowance – serve it with calcium-fortified plant milk and you would have close to your day’s worth of calcium before lunchtime!
Figs are underrepresented as a health food but, in fact, are packed with a whole host of vitamins and minerals and calcium is one of them! Three figs contain 21 per cent of your calcium RDA.
Don’t know how to eat figs? You can eat figs dried as a snack or fresh. You can even scrape the flesh out to make fig jam. They are excellent in desserts too.
Another win for the wonder green – is there anything kale can’t do?
As well as delivering a powerful dose of antioxidants, iron, vitamin A and fibre, kale is also high in calcium.
6. Tahini or sesame seeds
Eating sesame seeds or sesame seed paste (tahini) is a tasty and nutritious way to get a calcium boost. Just one heaped tablespoon of tahini or sesame seeds meets almost a fifth of your daily needs.
Sesame seeds too are an easy addition to a tofu dish, or sprinkled on a curry, stir-fries, or salads – they’re extra tasty when they are toasted!
Don’t forget vitamin D
Finally, it’s important to remember that calcium can only build bones properly if you have enough vitamin D.
The main source of vitamin D is sunshine, but it can also be found in small amounts in some plant foods such as vitamin D-fortified plant milks, margarines and cereals, vitamin-D grown mushrooms and nutritional yeast.
It is recommended that everyone in the UK – regardless of diet – takes a supplement over the winter months when you can’t absorb enough from the sun.