Why do you need it?

You need calcium for your bones but it’s also important for your muscles, nerves, signalling within cells and making hormones. Getting enough calcium is particularly important for bones during adolescence – especially during a growth spurt. 

Calcium is the main building block for your bones and they contain 99 per cent of the total calcium in your body. But it can only build bones properly if you have enough vitamin D.  

Because your body removes small amounts of calcium from your bones and replaces it with new calcium (bone remodelling) you need a regular supply. However, too much calcium (from dairy products and supplements) can cause bones to release calcium thus increasing the the risk of fractures. Also, excess calcium may be deposited in other tissues (eg kidneys) which can cause problems such as kidney stones. 

You should be able to get all the calcium you need by eating a varied vegan diet. If you take calcium supplements, don’t take too much as this could be harmful. Taking 1,500 milligrams or less a day is unlikely to cause harm.

How much do you need?

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends 1,000 milligrams (mg) of calcium a day for adults aged 19 to 50. The recommended intakes for infants, children, adolescents, older adults and pregnant and lactating women are given below.

Recommended nutrient intakes for calcium. Click to read more…
Age groupRecommended nutrient intake
Infants and children
0-6 months300* or 400*
7-12 months400
1-3 years500
4-6 years600
7-9 years700
Females, 19-501,000
Females 51-65+1,300
Males, 19-651,000
Males 65+1,300
Pregnant woman1,200
Lactating woman1,000
*from breastmilk **from infant formula
Source: WHO, FAO. 2004. Vitamin and mineral requirements in human nutrition. 2nd ed. Geneva: WHO.

Where to find calcium

The best plant-based sources of calcium include green leafy vegetables and other green vegetables, nuts (especially almonds), seeds (especially sesame), pulses, figs and fortified foods. 

  • Green leafy vegetables: Amaranth (dodo) leaves, kale and collard greens are all excellent sources of calcium. Other green vegetables like broccoli, cabbage and green beans contain some too, although much less than leafy greens. A cup (132 grams) of cooked amaranth leaves contains 276 milligrams of calcium and a cup (118 grams) of cooked kale contains 177 milligrams. While spinach, chard and beet greens contain relatively high amounts of calcium, they also contain oxalate which blocks calcium absorption. It’s better to get calcium from low-oxalate green vegetables like kale, broccoli and bok choy.  
  • Nuts: Peanuts (groundnuts), Brazil nuts and cashew nuts are a moderate source of calcium but almonds, if you can find them, are the best nuts for calcium with a small handful (28 grams) containing around 70 milligrams of calcium. 
  • Seeds: Sesame seeds (simsim) are a great source of calcium with one (nine gram) tablespoon containing 88 milligrams. The seeds can also be sprinkled on salads, added to dishes or used to make tahini, a paste that can be mixed into a bean stew or poured over greens served as a side dish. Chia seeds contain less calcium than sesame (one tablespoon contains around 56 milligrams) but can boost your intake when added to smoothies or cereals.
  • Pulses: Peas, beans and lentils are a moderate source of calcium. Popular varieties include yellow, green and split peas, red kidney beans, black beans, mung beans, cowpeas (black-eyed peas) and red ‘masoor’ lentils. They are frequently used in traditional Ugandan dishes such as curries, soups, stews, salads or simply boiled and served as a side dish. One cup (164 grams) of cooked chickpeas contains 80 milligrams of calcium. Soya products are also becoming increasingly available in Uganda and provide a useful source of calcium – especially calcium-set tofu. 
  • Figs: They can be eaten fresh or dried. Three dried figs contain around 150 milligrams of calcium. 
  • Fortified foods: Some foods are fortified with calcium, such as fortified plant-based milks such as soya or almond milk. These may not be as readily available in Uganda but can be a useful additional source of calcium if you can find them.