Mar 9, 2017

Best sources of calcium from plant-based foods

As I mentioned in my earlier post, cow’s milk is “THE” most over-rated source of calcium and mostly force-fed to children, either directly or by mixing with artificial, sugar-loaded health supplement powders. Even in the case of women and elderly, milk is given the supreme status with respect to calcium intake. It is not surprising that you see the availability of many women/elderly-specific health supplement drinks in the market, with a “fear” inducing claim related to osteoporosis and reduced bone density.

Calcium is important, not just for your bones but also for the effective functioning of heart, muscles and various other organs in your body. Calcium from plant-based sources is absorbed more effectively by our digestive system, whereas only 30% of calcium is absorbed from cow’s milk. Calcium is available in plenty in various lentils, grains, vegetables, greens and fruits.

I went through the data in NIN’s recently released "Indian Food Composition Tables - 2017" and made a table of such plant-based sources and their calcium contribution.

Please note, our requirement of calcium is in the range of 1000 to 1200 mg per day.

Calcium Sources Calcium per 100 gms

Cow’s milk, whole 118 mg

Grains / Cereals
Ragi / Fingermillet 364 mg
Amaranth seeds (pale brown) 162 mg

Nuts and seeds
Till / Sesame seeds, black 1664 mg
Till / Sesame seeds, brown 1174 mg
Till / Sesame seeds, white 1283 mg
Almonds 228 mg
Mustard seeds 402 mg

Legumes / Pulses
Horsegram 269 mg
Moth beans 154 mg
Bengal gram whole 150 mg
Rajma 134 mg
Green gram whole 92 mg
Black gram whole 86 mg
Cowpeas 84 mg
Dry peas 75 mg
Bengal gram dal 46 mg

Tamarind, pulp 149 mg
Fig 78 mg
Raisins, black 73 mg
Dates 71 mg
Raisins, golden 52 mg

Green leafy vegetables
Agathi Keerai 901 mg
Curry leaves  659 mg
Ponnanganni 388 mg
Amaranth leaves, green 330 mg
Drumstick leaves 314 mg
Parsley 288 mg
Methi leaves 274 mg
Amaranth leaves, red 245 mg
Radish leaves 234 mg
Bathua leaves 211 mg
Betel leaves 207 mg
Mint leaves 205 mg
Mustard leaves 191 mg
Beet greens 151 mg
Coriander leaves 146 mg
Cauliflower leaves 97 mg
Basella leaves 94 mg
Palak 82 mg

Ladiesfinger 86 mg
Baby corn 77 mg
Elephant yam 47 mg
Carrot, red 41 mg
Carrot, orange 35 mg

Spices and Condiments
Poppy seeds 1372 mg
Ajwain (Omum) 1034 mg
Cumin seeds 878 mg
Coriander seeds 718 mg
Cloves 567 mg
Pipali (long pepper) 414 mg
Pepper 405 mg
Cardamom, green 378 mg
Cardamom, black 312 mg
Asafoetida 266 mg

As you can see from this table above, there are “plenty” of plant-based sources from where we can get enough calcium to meet our daily needs. This widely-accepted claim of “milk” being the uber-source of calcium is a false propaganda by the dairy industry.

To increase your calcium intake,
(1) Include greens atleast 5 days a week. Make the extra effort to procure them from organic stores or local farmers if they are not available in supermarkets.
(2) Start incorporating ragi (finger millet) in your weekly diet in the form of idlis, dosas, rotis or porridge.
(3) Add Till/Sesame seeds while making parathas/theplas. Make till laddoos. Use till seeds in chutney podis. Store-bought chutney podis use very little till seeds since it can turn rancid quickly because of the oils in till seeds. Either make it yourself in small quantity as and when needed. Or you can procure it from EthnicPalate, my healthy food startup :-)
(4) Horsegram (Kollu / Kulith) is a super pulse and offers tremendous health benefits. Make dal, chutney podi, sambhar or rasam. Sprout it and include in salads. Or just steam them and have as a sundal for evening snack. Since horsegram is heat generating, include them in small quantitities during summer.
(5) Curry leaves are a rich source of calcium and iron. If you don't like to chew them while eating dal or sambhar, make a powder / podi. Sprinkle them in your dry sabjis. Finely chopped curry leaves can be added to adais, rava idlis or vadas.
(6) Eat a handful of dry fruits and nuts such as raisins, dates and almonds as a snack or add them to your porridge.
(7) Most of the spices we use in Indian cooking have plenty of calcium. Though Western foods are all the rage here in urban India, do stick to your roots and cook/eat Indian cuisine as often as you can. It is amazing to see how our cuisine celebrates such spices that not only adds flavour to dishes but also offer a plethora of healing and health benefits.

It doesn’t make sense to me to pop a daily calcium supplement tablet or drink a glass of processed calcium-fortified health drink when we have so many plant-based sources.

Also, there are 2 factors that are essential for calcium absorption and maintenance:
1) Vitamin-D as most of us know. Do spend time soaking in the sunshine everyday.
2) Reduce acidic foods such as caffeine, aerated drinks, alcohol and processed foods. In order to maintain the pH balance, our body tends to leech calcium from bones. Include more alkaline foods such as cucumbers, capsicums and lemons in your daily diet.

Hope this list is helpful. Do share your feedback/comments/questions if any.

P.S. If you are pregnant or lactating, then the calcium requirement is higher and so please consult with your doctor.
P.P.S I'm not a vegan yet. I'm a vegetarian and I do eat milk-based products. But I just can't accept this ridiculous claim of milk being a super food for women and children.

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