With meat and dairy off your plate, here's what to eat to make sure you're meeting your calcium requirements.
Dairy-Free? No Problem
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When you think about high-calcium foods, you probably think of a big glass of milk or a cheese board, right? Of course, dairy can offer the calcium you need for healthy bones and strong muscles. But if you're a vegan, you can still find foods that will get you enough calcium to meet your nutritional requirements.
It's not just calcium that comes into play for vegans. Non-dairy eaters can struggle with getting adequate amounts of certain nutrients that are more commonly found in or more easily absorbed from animal protein and dairy products, such as iron, vitamin B12, protein, as well as calcium. But include some of these high-calcium plant-based foods in your diet and you'll be off to a good start. (And don't forget that there are some real benefits to going vegan.)
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Firm tofu, made with calcium sulfate, is a great option, says Maggie Moon, M.S., R.D., author of The MIND Diet. There's 860mg of calcium per half cup (that'86 percent of your daily value). "Tofu offers nearly an entire day's worth of calcium, and as an added bonus is a great source of plant protein," says Moon. "I use firm tofu in a lot of ways people use meat—in veggie burgers, grilled, cut into cubes and added to soups and stir-fry dishes," she says.
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Edamame offers 260mg of calcium per cooked cup and 500mg for raw, says Moon, making it an easy high-protein and calcium-rich snack to keep on hand or to pack in your lunch. "Edamame is a healthy snack that is fun finger food," she says. (A tip? Try curried edamame for a spicy snack.) "The leftover pods make it easy to gauge portion control, too," she says.
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Almond Milk or Almonds
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Almond milk offers 45 percent of your DV at 450mg of calcium per cup. "Unsweetened almond milk is my go-to add-in for coffee, smoothies, or whenever I need a little extra liquid in vegan 'nice cream,'" she says. "It's a great lactose-free, plant-based milk that's low in calories and high in calcium."
Instead of drinking your almonds, grab a handful for a snack or to add to oatmeal. Almonds offer 100mg of calcium per ounce (or 10 percent DV), says Moon. "Almonds are a good source of calcium and plant protein, and so incredibly versatile in the kitchen. A handful of almonds is one of the easiest healthy snacks," she says. Or you can crush them to use as a coating for fish or chicken, grind them up to use in pizza dough or baked goods, or top a smoothie bowl with them.
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"I love cooking with turnip greens not only because I know leafy greens help keep the brain sharp, but because I cut down on food waste by using the whole plant," says Moon. "They make great cooking greens, and also come frozen, so you can prep them quickly on a weeknight." Turnip greens supply 250mg of calcium per cup, or 25 percent DV.
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Cereals can be super high in calcium if they are whole-grain and fortified, says Moon. "Sometimes fortified cereals are a practical way to add more calcium to the day," she says. "Choose whole-grain cereal with less than 10g added sugar, and at least 10 percent DV of calcium," she says. What's more, these cereals are typically fortified with vitamin D, which works with calcium to improve bone health.
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Yup, those are those leafy green vegetables you see in Chinese stir-fry. "Bok choy can be used in stir-fries, coleslaw, or sliced once lengthwise and sautéed with a little bit of olive oil," says Moon. You'll get as much as 160mg of calcium per cup, says Moon. You might want a sauce to cut back on its slightly bitter taste, though. (Try this: Spicy Peanut Tofu and Bok Choy Rice Bowl)
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