So many myths surround calcium on plant-based diets, and that is why I decided to clear those up with this article. Foods come in a package, and the fact that dairy has calcium does not mean that it is healthy for the body, because it comes with a ton of fat and cholesterol. Plant sources of calcium are plentiful, and my goal is to supply you with the information you need to successfully attain the calcium your body requires. If this was your roadblock to trying to go plant-based, let it stop you no more!
I am so passionate about this topic because almost 2 years ago, I started reading about the dairy industry. At that point, I was fully aware of how unhealthy dairy really is. This awareness, however, did not help me deal with my dairy cravings. I still continued to eat cheese about once a month, because I was so insanely addicted to the flavor, and also because the main protein in cheese, casein, was found to have addictive properties similar to heroin! It got me…
After doing some research on the dairy industry, and the way animals are treated in it, it became impossible for me to consume dairy. This research, and allowing myself to feel all of those terrible emotions and to be connected to the pain the animals experience, was the biggest key to my success in stopping to eat cheese.
In this article, I will explain why you should quit eating dairy, give some practical tips on HOW to do this, provide some ideas for plant sources of calcium + how to get a full day’s worth, and include 3 delicious recipes with those sources. Let’s get some strong bones, shall we?
5 Reasons Why Dairy is Unhealthy
- Milk intake does not prevent of bone fractures. A 2005 study on dairy and bone health in the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics found that there is little evidence to support any connection between the dairy and bone health in children and young adults. A 12-year study publicized in the American Journal of Public Health found that higher consumption of milk does not protect against hip or forearm fractures. Lastly, milk consumption during teenage years was not associated with lower risk of hip fractures as adults, according to a study 2014 in JAMA Pediatrics.
- Dairy is very high in fat and cholesterol. 1 cup of whole milk contains about 70 calories of fat, out of 147 calories. “Okay, I will just get some fat-free milk”, you might be thinking now. Well, that stuff often has something called powdered milk solids, which is a highly inflammatory denatured protein that is so processed, your body does not recognize it at all. The FDA does not require labeling this ingredient, so there is no way to know if your fat-free milk contains it or not. A study (BMJ 2014) that examined about 100,000 women found that milk consumption increased death of all causes (heart disease, cancer, and bone and hip fractures), point to the idea that milk comes in a dangerous package, calcium being only 1 of its components.
- “Cow’s milk may cause one of the most devastating disease that can befall a child“, says T. Colin Campbell in his famous nutritious study, “The China Study” (page 187). Type 1 diabetes in children is driven by drinking cow’s milk instead of breast milk at a young age. That cow’s milk may not be fully digested, and remnants of the original protein may stay in the intestines, and further get absorbed into the blood. The immune system sees these proteins as foreign invaders, and because some of these protein fragments look like pancreatic cells that make insulin, the immune system destroys both insulin-making pancreatic cells and the cow’s milk protein. The immune system fails to distinguish between the two, eliminating the child’s ability to produce insulin and making that child a type 1 diabetic.
- IGF-1, found in dairy, has been linked in the research to various types of cancer. Growth factor 1 (IGF-1) is a mammalian hormone that promotes cell growth and division; it is important in childhood for growth and continues to be important in adulthood for building organs and tissues. Research shows a strong link between high circulating IGF-1 levels and cancer, and circulating IGF-1 levels are higher in people who consume dairy. A study published in the British Journal of Cancer concludes that raised levels of IGF-1 were associated with dairy intake, and low levels were associated with veggie consumption. Another study by Harvard Medical School and Bringham and Women’s Hospital in Boston found that there is an association between circulating IGF-1 and protein intake – attributed to cow’s milk intake. Additional studies exist, but I will just leave it at that. I think it’s a good enough reason to quit the dairy.
- Dairy cows are treated extremely harshly in the dairy industry. They are literally raped to become pregnant and produce milk, over and over again. You can think of this as slave labor for cows. Their calves are taken away from them and fed milk replacers, instead of what they are supposed to drink – their mother’s milk, just like us. Cows are also given a ton of hormones and antibiotics so that they can keep producing milk. There is absolutely no reason to consume milk, not even the organic kind, when you know how unhealthy it is for humans, and for cows. We, as humans, will not give our milk to baby animals, and in the same way, milk is a product that should be left for baby cows to drink.
How to Quit Dairy
I know from my own experience that quitting dairy can be tough. Here are a few steps I took myself to quit consuming dairy, and I never looked back since (and trust me, not craving something is the most beautiful and freeing feeling):
- Educate yourself on both the harmful impact of dairy on your body, and the horrors of the dairy industry. Open your heart and truly connect with animals, and their emotional capabilities. Knowing about the dairy industry helped me tremendously in my decision to stop eating cheese and consume all dairy. If you are aware of what happens behind those dark walls, you will be much more likely to sustain your healthy, plant-rich diet.
- Learn how to make your own healthy cheese. I have 2 versions on my website: the raw vegan kind, and the baked. Both are incredible, and fulfill that cheese craving. I also have a vegan alfredo recipe.
- Don’t be hard on yourself – you may (and probably will) fall down, and it may take time. It took me 4 years to stop eating it since the day I decided, but I did it eventually, and have 0 cravings now! If you fall down, just continue to surround yourself with more of step #1- educational material that will remind you of why you should not consume dairy.
- Enjoy delicious dishes that contain plenty of plant calcium. Recipes are below!
- Don’t worry too much about getting enough calcium, unless your blood test shows that you are deficient. You shouldn’t worry because health is not about isolated nutrients. If it was, then we would be able to live off of vitamin and mineral pills, but we can’t. We live off of food. As long as you eat a whole-food plant-based diet and have great blood tests after a few months of doing so, you shouldn’t worry about any isolated nutrient. Worry about getting all your delicious colorful plants in, and you will be just fine!
Calcium and your Bones
Vegans are not immune to bone damage, and we should pay attention to our intake of calcium to assure strong bones and teeth, among other things.
It was once thought that consuming animal protein had a negative impact on bone health. That thought has now been disproven by research. Thus, the lack of animal protein in vegan diets does not mean that vegans will be immune to bone damage. Yet, hip fractures have been found to be highest in populations with the highest milk consumption (JAMA Pediatrics 2014). This was attributed to galactose, the simple sugar found in milk, which is also attributed to premature aging, inflammation, brain degeneration and more!
Vegans can get plenty of healthy plant calcium by consuming plant foods rich in calcium. The cool thing is that many plant foods are rich in potassium, vitamin K, and vitamin C, and these all keep bones strong. The list below, as well as the recipes I have provided will help you get the calcium your bones and teeth so desire.
Best Sources of Calcium on a Vegan Diet
A note about absorption of calcium: What actually matters in terms of calcium consumption is not just how much we consume, but how well it is absorbed in our body. Absorption rates of calcium from cow’s milk are very low. The RDA was set under the premise that we absorb only 30% of the calcium from food. Our need for calcium is only 250 to 330 mg per day, but the RDA is so high because it is assumed we will not absorb very much. However, leafy green and cruciferous vegetables provide calcium that has between 50 to 60% absorption rate. On the other hand, absorption from oxalate-rich veggies like spinach and from beans is extremely low. (Another great reason to eat your greens!) This is very important to remember and consider when you think about your daily calcium needs and consumption.
Other great sources of calcium are listed here, and I have referenced this wonderful article by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine while writing mine.
Get a Full Day’s Calcium*:
The following are just some examples of how you can get your calcium to illustrate that you simply need to consume a ton of plant foods, and you will be absolutely fine.
- 2 tablespoons black strap molasses + 5 oranges + 3 cups raw chopped kale
- 3 cups raw chopped watercress + 3 cups raw shredded bak choy + 3 cups sliced okra + 1 cup whole almonds
- 3 cups broccoli + 1 cup pak choi + 3 tablespoons tahini + 3 oranges + 1 cup cooked quinoa + 1 cup cooked pinto beans
*Based on 1,000mg daily of calcium
Quick Calcium-Rich Oats Recipe
Make this recipe with me:
This calcium-packed recipe combines 3 delicious plant sources of calcium into 1 power-packed meal.
Quick Calcium-Rich Oats Recipe
- 1 cup rolled oats
- 1/2 cup water
- 2 tablespoons coconut nectar you can also use coconut sugar or maple syrup to taste
- A pinch of cinnamon and nutmeg
- 1 cup frozen berries of choice
- 3 dried figs chopped into pieces
- 1 tablespoon blackstrap molasses
- Cover oats with water and allows to sit for 5-10 minutes so that the oats can soften
- Add sweetener of choice, molasses, and spices and mix well
- Top with dried figs and berries
- You can keep this in the fridge overnight and eat in the morning as well!
3 Divine Recipes that are Full of Calcium, and Replace your Dairy Addiction
PS… the first one has half of your day’s worth!
Get your Calcium-Rich Recipes Below: