Eating Vegan: Uncovering Causes of Calcium Deficiency

eating vegan

steamed broccoli recipe
Broccoli, kale, quinoa and sesame seeds are all great vegan sources of calcium.

If you’re vegan or just don’t drink milk, you might be worried about developing calcium deficiency. However, there are plenty of excellent vegan sources of calcium, like cruciferous vegetables and dark leafy greens, and plenty of amazing ways to eat them like the sesame steamed broccoli recipe pictured above.

If you’re including lots of vegetable sources of calcium in your diet, your intake should be fine. The thing is, calcium deficiency actually happens more often because your body isn’t using or absorbing it properly.

Calcium is a really difficult mineral for our bodies to get out of our food, absorb and use. There are some nutrients that can get in the way of your body’s ability to use calcium, and other nutrients that your body needs in order to use calcium and maintain bone health and density.

Most of the time, if someone has (or thinks they have) a calcium deficiency, they jump to calcium supplements when they should really be looking at the root cause of calcium deficiency instead. And so many of the supplements you buy in the store are bad quality and don’t get used by your body.

Inefficient Digestion

Low liver function or low stomach acid levels are a really common cause of calcium deficiency. Making sure that your stomach is active enough is the first thing to look at in correcting a deficiency.

Taking a digestive enzyme is a great way to help your stomach keep up, although eating smaller meals with simple food combinations is even more helpful. If you think your liver is causing the hold up, you might want to take an herbal liver cleansing supplement.

The best idea would be to see a naturopath or holistic nutritionist to find the root cause of your symptoms, imbalances and nutrient deficiencies.

Calcium’s interaction with other nutrients

Excess phosphorus (lots in bran, wheat germ, cheese, soybeans, bacon) displaces calcium (takes its place in your body), and foods with oxalic acid (rhubarb, raw spinach, chocolate) interfere with the absorption of calcium. If you eat too many of these foods, they might cause calcium deficiency.

A lack of or magnesium or vitamin D can be an indirect cause of calcium deficiency since those nutrients are necessary for calcium to be used in your body. Without them, it doesn’t matter how much calcium you eat – it won’t get to where you need it.

You can get some vitamin D from sunshine, but it’s usually a good idea to take a supplement, especially if you live in the northern hemisphere.

Magnesium is easy to get from healthy whole plant foods. Whole grains and dark green vegetables are high in magnesium. The cool thing is that they’re also a great way to get calcium on a vegan diet.

Poor quality calcium supplement

There are lots of poor calcium/magnesium supplements out there in the following forms: carbonate, oxide, gluconate, citrate, and dicalcium phosphate. Citrate is okay but may give you a headache or make you feel tired.

If your daily calcium/magnesium supplement fits into 1 pill, something is wrong. Quality calcium takes space, especially because you don’t want it compressed down into a dense, non-absorbable tablet. You want to always accompany your calcium a with magnesium and vitamin D supplement for better absorption.

The best way to maintain a healthy calcium level is through lots of good quality fresh vegetables and fruit, along with a variety of grains, beans, nuts and seeds. If you’re doing that and still have low calcium levels, take a look at your digestion, the levels of other nutrients that can help or hinder calcium absorption as possibilities for the root cause of calcium deficiency. If you need to take a supplement, be sure that it’s a really high quality one.

Image credit: Heather Nauta of Healthy Vegan Recipes

2 thoughts on “Eating Vegan: Uncovering Causes of Calcium Deficiency”

  1. Thanks for this column, Heather. About vitamin D: you mention here that it’s usually a good idea to take a vitamin D supplement–quite true. But people often wonder about the right level–hundreds of IUs? Thousands?

    Wonder no more: this morning, Dr. Greger over at posted a great blog all about figuring out the optimal vitamin D supplement level, with excellent accompanying videos, too.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top