If you’re “nondairy” then where do you get your calcium? Of course, that’s a question vegans have heard for years. But the assumption that dairy milk is the best (or only) calcium source is old school, carried over from the USDA’s Basic 7 and Basic Four food groups and a couple “food pyramids,” introduced over the years from the 1940s up to the current MyPlate, introduced in 2011. As the authority on nutrition, these guides compelled the generations to “eat healthy” and drink milk to build strong bones.
However, the myth depicting dairy as the primary calcium source has been dispelled by more recent findings that prove: Getting our calcium from plants is far healthier! So here are five reasons to put them on the menu today.
- Scientifically supported—not influenced by powerful food-industry lobbyists, agriculture policies, or milk marketing campaigns. In late 2011, the Harvard School of Public Health boldly challenged the USDA’s dairy-friendly MyPlate nutrition guide by launching a new-and-improved alternative of its own—the Healthy Eating Plate. The Harvard guide emphasizes plant-based and deemphasizes dairy. In fact, half the plate is vegetables, with dairy relegated to only two side notes saying “limit dairy/milk (1–2 servings/day)” and for protein “limit cheese.” That’s it, and for good reason …
- Safer than dairy. While the USDA calls for having dairy with every meal, Harvard’s studies confirm a high intake of dairy products can negatively affect blood-sugar levels and increase the risk of prostate cancer and possibly ovarian cancer. Add to that dairy’s saturated fats linked to heart disease and stroke. By contrast, plant foods like collards, soy milk, baked beans, and many others provide high calcium, minus the risks.
- High in calcium. We need 1,000 to 1,200 milligrams of calcium per day for good bone health, but Americans miss the mark. Given that cow’s milk is so high in calcium, shouldn’t we drink more of it? Not when you consider the health risks we just mentioned plus the fact that plants are as laden with calcium as dairy is:
1 Cup Calcium (milligrams)
Hemp milk 460
Cow’s milk (1% fat) 305 (Source: USDA)
Fortified orange juice 300
Turnip greens 250
- Rich in other nutrients. Plant-based foods provide other nutrients besides calcium that are equally important for bone health: vitamins C and K, and minerals potassium and magnesium. Even calcium itself is essential for more than just bones and teeth: In a recent Veestro article about calcium, food and lifestyle expert Mia Syn of Nutrition By Mia notes that it’s “the most abundant mineral in the body and is needed for muscle, nerve, and vascular function.”
- Abundantly available. Plants packed with calcium are plentiful and varied, easily incorporated into any diet (veg or omnivore!). Mia recommends calcium-rich, plant-based Veestro meals like Oatmeal Breakfast Pie, Savory Croquettes, Red Curry with Tofu, Kale and Quinoa Salad, Chick’n Quesadillla, Spinach Pie, and the Enchilada and Eggplant casseroles. And when you’re in the market for greens, check nutritionist Daisy Whitbread’s list of 33 high-calcium veggies for more ways to get the calcium you need.
Michelle Schoffro Cook, Care2.com
Harvard Declares Dairy NOT Part of Healthy Diet
Becky Streipe, Care2.com
25 Vegan Sources for Calcium