Calcium for Vegetarians – Time to Get Those Bones Strong!

Every year, when I have my regular physician checkup, my doctor asks me about my calcium intake. She always says it’s important for the bones, and to prevent osteoporosis and other problems. I usually say yeah, that’s fine, I’m consuming enough calcium, and when I get home, don’t think much about that.

When tragedy strikes

Last year, my 92 year old grandmother slid off her bed and fell square on the ground. She couldn’t get up and was feeling a horrible pain in her leg. We took her to the ER immediately, and the X-ray revealed what the whole family feared: a hip bone fracture. She would need surgery to fix it. My grandmother had always been a healthy person; her diet was rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, cheese, milk and meat. She was also very active, until her 80’s she worked out at home, doing stretches and yoga moves. She lived independently, traveled, did all her shopping, and was always very well dressed up, and never gave up walking in heels. It was a very odd feeling to see her helpless in a hospital bed, waiting for a surgery to replace her broken hip, and expect her to walk again. That didn’t happen. She developed pneumonia while waiting for the surgery, and other complications. She never recovered from those complications and after more than a month in the ICU of a hospital, her suffering being prolonged to no avail, she left us. She never had the surgery and was buried with a broken hip.

Do I really consume enough calcium rich foods?

It was a wake up call. I suddenly realized that, even if I could not prevent a broken hip or other bone later in my life, it didn’t have to be so soon. My grandmother was 92 years old. I could live that long if I can also prevent the weakening of my bones, by being careful with my diet, and choosing the right foods that will enhance calcium absorption. Top that with the fact that I’ve been an egg-lacto vegetarian for the past 20 years and also have lactose intolerance, so I never drink milk. So, I probably was not consuming enough calcium rich foods.

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What to do to get more calcium in your diet if you are vegetarian

I know it’s important to exercise, so I now walk 20 minutes a day, every day, to ensure that my bones are strong; being moderately exposed to the sun also helps because Vitamin D, produced by the body with sun exposure, boosts calcium absorption. I make sure to get a little sun every day. And what to eat? I have increased my intake of yogurt, I prefer to buy the Greek yogurt kind; since I’m lactose intolerant I drink lots of almond milk enriched with calcium, and calcium fortified orange juice instead of other sugary juices. Tofu is my meat, and I toss lots of green leafs on salads and stews, especially spinach, broccoli and kale – the greener the better. I eat lots of whole grains, like brown rice mixed with different beans (black eyed peas, navy beans, black beans, Adzuki beans). I have felt better since I changed my diet, ensuring that I take more calcium on a daily basis. I don’t really like to take supplements; I believe that eating well will bring me better benefits than popping down pills.

It was not that hard to change my diet to change my life, I just needed to be more aware of what was good for me; even while eating out, there are options (I always choose the spinach salads) that can fit in my rich calcium diet.

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