According to the National Institutes of Health, calcium is the most abundant mineral in the human body. While calcium primarily strengthens bones and teeth, it also helps support the proper functioning of muscles, veins, nerves, and cells. Calcium plays a vital role in almost everything your body does so it’s very important to make sure you get enough.
The Food and Nutrition Board determines how much of each vitamin and mineral people need per day. Your Recommended Dietary Allowance for calcium depends on your age and sex. Adult men need 1,000 milligrams per day until age 70, at which time they require 1,200 milligrams per day. Adult women need 1,000 milligrams per day until age 51, at which time they require 1,200 milligrams per day.
Your body will absorb calcium from supplements, but research suggests that consuming calcium in food could be better for you and that calcium supplements might even pose health risks. Thankfully, it’s easy to find calcium in a healthy, vegetarian diet. Keep reading to learn about 10 calcium-rich vegetarian foods.
Cheese is one of the most calcium-dense foods available, but not all cheeses have the same calcium content. To get the most calcium possible, opt for Swiss, parmesan, mozzarella, cheddar, ricotta, or provolone cheese.
Milk is another excellent source of calcium. Perhaps surprisingly, skim milk contains as much or more calcium than other milks — and it’s better for you because of its lower fat content. Heating milk destroys its nutrients, so keep it cold and pour it on cereal or drink it straight to consume its full calcium benefit.
Yogurt provides yet another great source of calcium. (Do you see a dairy trend here?) Different yogurts contain different levels of calcium based on the milk used, production methods, and other ingredients, so check labels when shopping and choose a yogurt with a higher-calcium content.
White beans have the most calcium by far when compared to other beans. After that, it’s chickpeas (also called garbanzo beans) and red beans. Beans also have high protein levels, which is a nice bonus for vegetarians.
Almonds also provide a good source of both calcium and protein. They make an easy midday snack with no preparation or cleanup required. Or you can eat almond butter, which tastes great on bread, apples, celery, and more.
While almond milk also contains calcium, most of the calcium in nut milks comes from added supplements and not the nuts themselves.
Soybeans contain a high amount of calcium, and you can maximize your consumption by eating edamame — soybeans straight out of the pod. Tofu and other soy products do make calcium-rich options, but they can’t match the calcium content of the fresh beans.
If you’ve never bought edamame before, check your supermarket’s freezer section. Most grocery stores sell frozen, bagged edamame. While soybeans look similar to snap peas, they have inedible shells. Defrost the shelled beans and eat them raw, or cook them and add salt for more flavor.
7. Collard Greens
Collard greens also rank highly in terms of calcium content. Best known for their role in Southern meals, cooked collard greens make a great side dish for all types of lunches and dinners.
While other greens — such as spinach, kale, mustard greens, and bok choy — also make good sources of calcium, collard greens remain the leader.
8. Dried Figs
Dried figs aren’t the most popular food, but they’re definitely worth trying if you haven’t had them before. You can eat them alone as a snack or drop them into a salad.
In addition to containing high amounts of calcium, figs also can help you eat less. A study found that figs increased nutrient intake so people didn’t need to get those nutrients elsewhere. Animal studies also suggest that fig consumption might have a protective effect against diabetes.
9. Sesame Seeds
Sesame seeds pack a big calcium punch. Their tiny size, however, means most people don’t eat them often. You can increase your sesame seed consumption by choosing bread and bagels with sesame seeds baked in or sitting on top, buying cereals that incorporate sesame seeds, or adding these seeds to salads and vegetable dishes.
10. The Sun
Okay, the sun isn’t a food. It does, however, provide vitamin D and it’s vegetarian. Did you know many people with calcium deficiencies actually consume enough calcium? It’s true. Vitamin D assists with calcium absorption, and many people develop calcium deficiencies because they lacked the right amount of vitamin D.
The Vitamin D Council provides guidance to help you determine how much sun exposure you need to get enough vitamin D.
Enjoy these calcium-rich, vegetarian foods on a regular basis. To learn about the calcium content in even more types of food, check out the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s nutrient search database.