Do vegetarians need to take calcium supplements?

Do vegetarians need to take calcium supplements

Question :

Dear Sue:

I have read that as meat goes through your body it takes calcium out with it and that you need supplements. But I am a vegan, and I don’t think I need 1,500 mg of calcium a day because I eat a lot of veggies, tofu, legumes, etc. Could you give me your opinion on this? Thanks,

Answer :

Dear Shirley:

It is true, that eating animal protein may actually decrease calcium absorption and increase its excretion through urine. Vegans (vegetarians who eat no dairy or eggs) have lower rates of osteoporosis, perhaps for that reason, although science has not proved it. Other factors that may be involved are discussed below.

And although it seems that vegans absorb and retain calcium better than their animal-protein-eating peers, that doesn’t mean you won’t benefit from getting 1,000 to 1,500 mg of calcium a day. There is no research right now to show exactly how much less calcium, if any, a vegan needs. Getting the recommended amount will not hurt and may help, particularly if you are near or past menopause. Examine your diet and try to estimate how much calcium you get each day (the table below can help). If you get at least 1,000 mg and you get plenty of weight-bearing exercise, and if you are not menopausal, then in my opinion you are probably getting enough calcium without worrying about the additional 500 mg.

Minerals that help vegetarians hold on to the calcium they eat

It seems that the process of digesting animal protein produces acids that leach calcium from bones, so it would seem that eating dairy products may be counterproductive as a means of getting your calcium. Other characteristics of your vegan diet may be helping your bone health. One is the presence of the trace mineral boron in your diet. Research indicates that boron boosts blood levels of estrogen and other compounds that prevent bone loss. The average American gets little boron, but a vegetarian is likely to eat more of the foods high in boron (apples, pears, grapes, raisin, dates, peaches, soy, almonds, peanuts, hazelnuts and honey) and have less osteoporosis.

A second trace mineral high in a vegetarian’s diet, manganese, is implicated in bone metabolism. Manganese is found in oatmeal and other cereals, spinach, whole wheat and nuts.

The following list will give you the amount of calcium in some foods that you may be eating:

Fortified OJ1 cup300 mg
Fortified soymilk1 cup250-300 mg
Collard greens1/2 cup frozen180 mg
tofu4 ounces100-250 mg
turnip greens1 cup200 mg
ready-to-eat cereal (fortified)1 cup200 mg
wakame, raw3.5 ounces150 mg
tempeh4 ounces175 mg
blackstrap molasses1 tbsp175 mg
dried figs5135 mg
navy beans1 cup130 mg
broccoli1 cup80 mg

You have asked an interesting and timely question, considering the emphasis on preventing osteoporosis in women. I hope this information has helped. Perhaps research into the diets of vegans in the Far East, who have far less osteoporosis, will soon give us more clues.

Sue Gilbert, M.S., nutritionist

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