Dairy products are high in calcium, but needs can also be met on a well-planned vegan diet.
Rich plant food sources include dark green vegetables such as broccoli, bok choy and kale, beans, tofu (made with calcium), tahini, sesame seeds, almonds, figs, seaweeds, unrefined molasses, and fortified soy milks. Since the consumption of animal protein increases calcium requirements, a person following a vegan diet may have much lower needs.
Although some plant foods contain oxalates (such as spinach, Swiss chard and beet greens) and phytate which can inhibit calcium absorption, the calcium in plant foods is generally well absorbed.
Story from a Veggie Challenge participant:
“When I was 15, I went to France for a year on a high school exchange. I was placed in Le Havre – in the heart of Normandy, that is, in the heart of dairy land. My host family was absolutely horrified when they learned of my dietary “restrictions”. Their main concern was that I didn’t drink milk. They could not for the life of them even consider that milk wasn’t the best food on the planet. My day came, however, when I was in the hospital after breaking my big toe in a stupid accident in a pool. My host mom voiced her concern to the doctor: “How is her bone going to heal if she doesn’t drink milk? Doesn’t she need calcium to repair her bone?” The doctor responded, much to everyone’s surprise, “Milk is not the best source of calcium. In fact, you can find calcium in many things – water and green vegetables being two good examples”. Of course, my toe healed just fine.”
– Hilary, late 20’s vegan, Toronto
See calcium section of the 2009 Vegetarian Position Paper by the American Dietetic Association for more information on vegetarian and vegan nutrition. The paper covers all stages of the life cycle (including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, adolescence, and old age). View as a 17-page pdf.
Calcium in the Vegan Diet, vrg.org (2003)