In this article, we’ll cover why calcium is so important for a plant-based pregnancy and how you can be sure to get enough from plant foods.
As you can imagine, the importance of many individual nutrients increases during pregnancy. You are, after all, growing another human!
One of these essential nutrients is calcium. We often hear about calcium in relation to milk and dairy products, but rest assured – if you prefer to get your calcium from plant-based sources, you totally can.
What Does Calcium Do In Pregnancy?
During pregnancy, your body will actually remove calcium from your bones and teeth to give to your growing baby. Talk about doing anything for your kids!
As a result, it’s important to get enough calcium during this time of high demand.
Women who chronically do not get enough calcium are at an increased risk for experiencing bone loss during pregnancy. Less than 500 mg per day of calcium is considered suboptimal.
Calcium Needs During Pregnancy
Your calcium needs technically remain about the same during pregnancy, but there’s a caveat.
As we just mentioned, it becomes even more essential to meet those needs while pregnant because of the way in which calcium is used for your baby.
During pregnancy, your body provides between 50 and 330 mg of calcium per day to support your baby’s developing skeleton.
Women between the ages of 19-50 years (pregnant or not) have a calcium requirement of 1,000 mg per day. Women between the ages of 14-18 years require 1,300 mg per day. However, most women living in western countries only get around 800 mg of calcium per day, on average.
Plant-Based Sources of Calcium
Many plant foods naturally contain calcium, and many plant-based products are fortified with calcium.
There are a few things to consider to make sure that you’re getting enough calcium from plant foods.
Certain plant foods contain large amounts of compounds called oxalates, which can reduce the amount of calcium absorbed from the food.
Plant foods with the lowest calcium absorption (due to high oxalate content) include spinach, rhubarb, beet greens, and swiss chard. Depending on the vegetable, you can actually reduce its oxalate content by between 30-87% by boiling it, or by between 5-53% by steaming it, before eating. (Note that even though the aforementioned foods may not be the best sources of calcium, they’re still fantastic sources of other vitamins and minerals!)
Some of the best absorbed plant-based sources of calcium include fortified soymilk, bok choy, kale, mustard greens, turnip greens, watercress, and broccoli.
Calcium absorption is also affected by dose. The larger dose of calcium you ingest at one time, the less is absorbed. You can get around this by incorporating calcium-rich foods in meals and snacks throughout the day, rather than getting your calcium fix all at one meal. On average, around 25% of calcium is absorbed from foods (both plant and animal-derived).
Should You Take a Calcium Supplement?
Some research indicates that taking a calcium supplement may not be necessary for every woman.
However, we recommend that to be certain, pregnant women follow the advice of taking a prenatal supplement that contains 500 mg of calcium daily. This is especially important if you eat a large quantity of oxalate-rich plant sources of calcium. We can’t find a prenatal that meets all of our requirements perfectly, but the two that come closest are Thorne Prenatal and Rainbow Light.
Additionally, doses of 500 mg or less at one time are best absorbed.