Myth Busting: Broccoli contains more calcium than milk
Updated: Jul 27
I've heard this 'ere broccoli claim so many times, that even though I knew it to be incorrect, I was starting to believe it myself, and felt the need to investigate further.
Don't misunderstand me. I have no interest in trying to convert vegans to omnivoreism (yes, I know, I made that word up). It's none of my damn business what you eat, or don't eat, but I really dislike misinformation, whether deliberate or a mistake. I aim to give honest information, so that, should you wish to, you can then make small adaptations to your diet and lifestyle, to improve health. This is regardless of your dietary preference, because being ‘dairy free’ is not limited to vegans, many omnivores also exclude dairy, either due to them being intolerant, allergic, or because they just plain don’t like it.
Broccoli contains more calcium than milk
That is a bold statement, so let's start with finding out how much broccoli you eat per day: One cupful, two, or three? Do you eat this amount every single day, without fail? Or are you a junk food vegan?
It's a valid question, because calcium is an integral part of bone health, and vegans are more likely to suffer bone fractures (not true in the case of vegetarians). Other nutrients such as protein, magnesium, vitamin D, K, zinc etc are also important for bone health, as is weight bearing exercise, but before you jump down my throat in indignation, let me explain?
Beware of Doctor Google!
Just because an influencer states something positively enough, it does not mean it is fact. No matter how stunning they look, how they smile at the camera, or dare I say it, they wear a white lab coat and have initials after their name. A quick google search, will show you a plethora of vegan promoting sites with claims such as "seaweed can pack 10 x more calcium than cows milk."
"seaweed can pack 10 x more calcium than cows milk."
Seriously? Get a grip folks!
The seaweed that most people can get their hands on, is Nori, (the stuff frequently used for sushi rolls). 100g of Nori will give you 70mg calcium (7% of your daily recommended amount). However. And a big however, a typical sheet of nori weighs 5g. Are you REALLY going to eat 20 sheets in one sitting? Similarly, when you are encouraged to 'get dipping' because hummus contains calcium rich tahini. Well, tahini is only a small fraction of hummus, and therefore a 2 tablespoon serving, will provide you with just 27 mg calcium. Expect even less than that, if you opt for a so called 'healthier' low fat variety, or a cheaper range (tahini is frequently reduced to keep cost low).
My personal view is, that these claims probably start off in a more modest fashion, such as
'Calcium from broccoli is absorbed better than dairy calcium.'
And then over a period, it gets twisted to mean something more dramatic to fit a personal or group agenda
'Broccoli contains more calcium than milk.'
The two assertions sound similar, but there is a big difference in meaning.
Whilst it is true that calcium from broccoli is bioavailable, this is not so true for some other forms of green veggies, such as spinach, but spinach has other benefits, so I'm not suggesting you shouldn't eat it. However, you would need to eat four portions of broccoli to reach the same amount of bioavailable calcium from one serving of milk.
Read that again!
You would need to eat four portions of broccoli, to reach the same amount of bioavailable calcium from one serving of milk
This takes me back to my starting block 'just how much broccoli do you eat each day? And what does the rest of your daily diet look like?'
How much calcium do we need eat day?
The UK daily reference nutrient intake (RNI) for over 19 years, is approximately 700mg (more for post menopausal women). A cup of cooked broccoli would provide roughly 40mg calcium. Which means that you would need to eat over 17 cupful's per day to reach the RNI. Don't get me wrong, I love broccoli, but even I would struggle with that much. Regardless of a food's 'superfood' status, I certainly wouldn't recommend eating too much of any individual ingredient. Gut health thrives on a diverse mix!
So, how do you ensure that your plant-based diet gives you sufficient calcium? Thankfully there are other, non-dairy food options available to increase a vegan's intake of calcium!
How to get enough calcium on a dairy free diet
Be wary of swapping like for like i.e., dairy cheddar for non-dairy cheeze. Frequently there is little to no calcium contained in the product. Always check labels!
Make sure your plant milk is fortified with calcium.
A 28g serving of nuts/seeds: Chia 179mg; Tahini 120mg; Almonds 76mg; Brazil 45mg; Pistachio 30mg
Tofu and Tempeh are fantastic sources of bioavailable calcium: 120g tofu will provide 450mg calcium, Tempeh 133mg
1 cup cooked beans: Blackbeans 118mg; Red kidney beans 100mg; Edamame 97mg; Chickpeas 68mg.
Eat plenty of green leafy vegetables such as bok choy, kale and broccoli. Fresh whole oranges are a good fruit source of calcium.
Certain vegan highly processed foods contain added calcium, such as the 'Beyond Burger'. You will need to check ingredients list for other makes.
Wishing you happy, healthy, plant-based eating!