I have recently adopted a much more plant-based meal plan, and I have to say that I feel good! I still eat fish, but since I no longer engage in serious competitive bodybuilding, my daily protein consumption has purposefully been reduced from 150 grams/day to 65-80 grams/day. Yes, I am small, not quite 100 lbs., but still wish to maintain or even add to my lean muscle mass. Incidentally, it seems to be working successfully.
Does Calcium Hide in Plants?
A key issue for many clients who have adopted a similar regimen is finding sources of calcium sufficient to meet their US RDA needs. As we would expect, vegans have the same calcium requirements as omnivores: 1000 mg/day for those between the ages of 19 and 50; after that, 1200 mg/day for those 50 years old. However, in the absence of dairy products, how can individuals be sure they are consuming the right plant-based foods in the appropriate quantities?
As it turns out, plant-derived sources of calcium may offer a few unique benefits. The leafy green vegetables that are good sources of calcium are also rich in vitamin K, which has been found to greatly support the development and maintenance of a healthy bone structure. Potassium and Vitamin C are 2 more nutrients that come conveniently and naturally packed into most fresh fruits and vegetables.
The good news does not stop there. Many lentil-type protein sources are abundantly rich in calcium, but the average client most likely would not immediately think of them as such. ½ cup of great Northern beans, black beans, or navy beans dishes out 50 mg. of calcium. ½ cup of calcium-fortified tofu offers vegans a delicious way of obtaining 200 mg. of calcium. A tablespoon of blackstrap molasses even delivers 200 mg. of calcium! An 8-ounce glass of rice, hempseed or soymilk contains 300 mg. of calcium. I am a coconut milk drinker, so I am unable to comment on the taste of such products, but they certainly seem to be flying off the grocery store shelves!
Oxalates Can Be Deceiving
There are some caveats of which to be aware when seeking to obtain calcium solely from plant sources. Compounds known as oxalates, which are present in some leafy green vegetables, can inhibit absorption of calcium. Beet greens, Swiss chard, rhubarb, and spinach contain abundant calcium as well as many other beneficial nutrients, but unfortunately are also quite high in oxalates. However, if one chooses other leafy greens, such as collard, kale and mustard greens, the terrain is much safer. In the absence of a high concentration of oxalates, the calcium present in these vegetables can be absorbed at a very good rate.
Calcium On The Run
Since many clients thrive on busy schedules requiring healthy on-the-go foods, I often suggest fresh vegetables and hummus. Easy to pack and delicious when enjoyed together, a serving will not only offer calcium but protein and healthy fats as well.
As always, be cautious about exceeding your scope of practice when suggesting foods and quantities to clients. First and foremost, we must listen to the needs of our clients, do research if necessary, and provide a framework as they embark upon a calcium-rich, healthy meal plan.
More questions? Check out http://www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/foodcomp/ for more information on the calcium content of foods.
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