A friend asked me today whether I worry, as a vegan, about calcium. Well, I do worry about it, but not because I’m vegan. Calcium is an issue for all women. No matter what type of diet you follow, it’s important to identify good sources of this mineral.

Plant foods that are good sources of calcium include many leafy greens, like kale, collards, and mustard greens; broccoli; some legumes like black beans and vegetarian baked beans; blackstrap molasses (but not regular molasses); fortified soyfoods; fortified juices; and tofu if it is has calcium listed as an ingredient.

Some foods—like spinach, beet greens, Swiss chard, and certain seeds—have lots of calcium, but most of it doesn’t get absorbed. These foods contain compounds called oxalates that interfere with calcium absorption. Generally, calcium is well-absorbed from most other plant foods, though, and from fortified foods, too. It’s also well absorbed from supplements.

One good reason to choose vegan sources of calcium is that these foods—those that are natural sources of calcium as well as those that are fortified with it–often have advantages over milk in protecting the health of your bones.

For example:

  • Calcium-fortified soymilk and calcium-set tofu contain compounds called isoflavones that may help maintain bone health.
  • Calcium-fortified orange juice is rich in vitamin C, and research shows that people with high vitamin C intakes are likely to have healthier bones.
  • Many leafy green vegetables–such as collards and kale–are rich in calcium and they are also high in vitamin K and potassium–two nutrients needed for strong bones.

While dairy foods provide calcium, they don’t contain vitamin C or isoflavones and they are poor sources of vitamin K and potassium.

However you choose to get calcium, make sure you get enough. The current recommendation for adults is 1000 milligrams of calcium per day. Contrary to what you may have heard elsewhere, there is no evidence that vegetarians need less calcium than meat eaters. If you don’t eat enough calcium-rich foods to meet your needs for this mineral, use supplements to make up the difference.

Here are good sources of calcium for vegans (and for everyone else, too!)

Foods that provide about 300 milligrams of calcium:

1 cup fortified orange juice or V8 juice
1 cup fortified soymilk
1 Luna Bar

Foods that provide about 200 milligrams of calcium:

1 tbsp blackstrap molasses
1 cup fortified apple juice
½ cup cooked collard greens
½ cup calcium-set tofu
1 ounce of fortified breakfast cereal

Foods that provide about 100 milligrams of calcium

½ cup cooked kale, turnip greens, or broccoli
½ cup cooked soybeans
¼ cup soynuts
1 package of instant oatmeal
5 dried figs

Foods that provide about 75 milligrams of calcium

2 tbsp almond butter or tahini
½ cup prepared textured vegetable protein (TVP)
½ cup cooked bok choy
½ cup tempeh

Foods that provide about 50 milligrams of calcium

½ cup cooked navy, black or great northern beans
½ cup vegetarian baked beans
1 orange
2 tbsp almonds
1 package instant Cream of Wheat