No cheese? No milk? No dairy at all? Where do you get your calcium? How do you live with cheese?!
These questions are super common if you are a vegan. I know people mean well because most people genuinely believe that you get protein from meat and calcium from milk. So let’s set the record straight.
Calcium is required to build and maintain strong and healthy bones/teeth. It is also used by the blood to keep the body from becoming too acidic. Growing up, it seems like everybody was telling others, kids in particular, to drink their milk so that they would have strong bones. Americans will eat, on average, about 630 pounds of milk, yogurt, cheese, and ice cream per year (these are the 2011 stats). If Americans are eating so much dairy, and getting so much calcium, then why are 75% of Americans calcium deficient?
Dairy products do have calcium, growing calves need it to gain about 300 to 400 lbs! That also means it is full of fat and nutrients that were meant for calves, not humans. We are the only species that drinks the milk of other animals, so it’s no wonder that so much of the world is lactose intolerant. The human body was just no meant to drink cows milk. Additionally, calcium from cows milk is not properly absorbed, especially if meat, soda, or processed foods join the mix.
The body prefers to stay alkaline, so when it becomes acidic due to the foods that are ingested, it does what is necessary to return the body to a more comfortable alkaline state. Like meat, milk becomes acidic in the body. What does the body do to fix the problem? It removes calcium from the bones to make the blood more alkaline. All foods that make the body acidic (meat, soda, coffee, alcohol, sugar, processed food, and even table salt) have this effect. On a side note, soda is the absolute worst due to its high phosphorus content. Also, in order for the body to even absorb calcium (the most difficult nutrient to absorb), there needs to be many other nutrients (vitamin D, boron, magnesium, trace minerals, etc.) present for the body to be able to absorb calcium.
Here’s the real kicker that usually gets some raised eyebrows: milk is not the only food with calcium! Where do the cows get their calcium? Plants! Oh and even better: vegetables have an alkalizing effect on the body so no more calcium leaching! Here is a list of plant-based foods that provide the body with easier to digest calcium: dark leafy greens like collard greens, mustard, spinach, kale, and turnip greens, navy beans, sesame seeds and tahini, molasses, almonds, tempeh, and a ton more.
Although it is possible and arguably better to get calcium from plant-based sources, the best thing to do to keep calcium levels at a recommended level? Taking out processed and junk food. They are really only aggravating the problem and providing zero benefit to the body. Also, making sure that you are getting plenty of vitamin d, as that helps with calcium absorption.
So when people ask where I get my calcium from? The green smoothie I had for breakfast, the kale salad I had for lunch, the hummus I had for a snack, and navy bean soup I had for dinner!