Eating enough calcium on the keto diet can be a tough objective, especially if you’re on the vegan keto diet or cutting out dairy.
In fact, many people are adopting plant-based and dairy-free diets. Advocates are even extolling the benefits as nothing short of adding years to your life.
Make no mistake, saying goodbye to meat and animal-derived products has indubitable health benefits.
Including (but not limited to):
- Enhanced weight loss
- Better cognitive function
- Support for healthy blood sugar balance
- Improved heart health
- Decreased risk of cancer
- Reduced systemic inflammation
The thing about the vegan diet is none of the claims about it are based on conjecture. Every benefit in the above list is backed by clinical evidence and well-controlled studies (of which are legion in number).
However, it’s understandable that many people take umbrage at the almost cult-like behavior some vegans participate in (e.g. protesting, slandering “meat eaters”, etc.).
It’s safe to say vegans are vehement about enacting change on a global scale. Most notably for the ethical aspects of ditching animal-based products.
Ethical implications aside, vegans are right about the health benefits of cutting out meat and dairy. Arguably, the hardest thing about adopting a plant-based lifestyle is parting ways with the latter.
If you’re trying to get into ketosis and thinking about going dairy-free, an immediate concern is getting enough calcium on the keto diet.
Read on to learn more about the health aspects of dairy, plant-based dieting, and the best non-dairy sources of calcium for the keto diet.
The Dairy Lowdown: Is It as Healthy as We Think?
We are more or less raised to believe that milk is like the nectar of life; after all, breastfeeding is literally the first form of nourishment for many infants.
Granted, breast milk is not the same as milk from dairy products, this speaks more so to the biological impetus that propels humans toward dairy consumption.
Plus, dairy is rich in calcium, and we all know how important that is for healthy growth, maturation, and bone integrity, right?
While there are many benefits from consuming calcium in dairy, the proteins and sugars in dairy are suspected of causing low-grade inflammatory responses in the body.
Inflammation from Dairy: What Research Has to Say
An inflammatory response is an intrinsic physiological mechanism that your immune system initiates to defend tissues from harmful stimuli. This may include pathogens, mechanical stress, wounds, foreign substances, certain nutrients, and more.
Naturally, some inflammation is a great and essential thing for your body. For example, the localized swelling that occurs after an injury like an ankle sprain is a form of “healthy” inflammation that helps you recover.
However, when inflammation becomes chronic, your body slowly becomes damaged and weakened, which can lead to a host of health conditions, such as cancer, obesity, arthritis, heart disease, dementia, and much more.
Sounds scary, doesn’t it? Frankly, it is.
What’s more worrisome is the insidious nature of low-grade inflammation from excessive dairy consumption.
Low-grade inflammation is essentially a modest inflammatory response that accumulates over time. This is the type of inflammation many people have going on without even realizing it until it becomes debilitating.
Sadly, many modern foods are loaded with foreign chemicals and artificial nutrients that induce low-grade inflammatory responses.
Dairy is also a perpetrator of low-grade inflammation. Research suggests that people who consume more than four servings of dairy per day (especially low-fat dairy) have higher levels of inflammatory biomarkers, like interleukin-6, C-reactive protein, and other immune factors.
It remains to be elucidated what exactly in dairy causes low-grade inflammation, but scientists postulate that lactose and certain milk proteins – like whey – are the major culprits.
The question you’re probably asking is, “How the heck can I get enough calcium on the keto diet if I don’t eat dairy?”
Surprisingly, there are a host of non-dairy, calcium-rich foods for the keto diet out there.
Top 5 Non-Dairy Sources of Calcium
For adults, the recommended daily intake (RDI) of calcium is 1 gram (1,000 mg). Children and those over 50 may need as much as 1,300 mg per day.
It is estimated that a large portion of the population falls well short of the RDI for calcium (even those who consume dairy daily).
Skimping on calcium on the keto diet can lead to a host of health conditions, such as osteoporosis, CVD, and impaired muscular function.
The good news: You can easily meet the RDI for calcium on the keto diet by consuming these top 5 non-dairy, calcium-rich foods (and several of them are vegan-friendly)!
Most people associate salmon with the omega-3 essential fatty acids that all the craze seems to be about lately. While EPA and DHA are undoubtedly beneficial, salmon is also rich with calcium.
In fact, as little as 80 grams of salmon has over 20% of the recommended daily intake (RDI) of calcium. Unfortunately, salmon is not vegan-friendly, but it is definitely keto-friendly if you haven’t adopted a completely plant-based lifestyle just yet.
2. Chia seeds
Chia seeds are known as being quite the “superfood” due to their dense profile of omega-3 essential fatty acids, fiber, and trace minerals.
They also have a decent amount of protein and a rather neutral taste, making them a vegan’s best friend for baking and smoothies. The best part: Chia seeds pack about 10% of the RDI for calcium per every 15 grams (1 tablespoon).
Chia seeds easily integrate themselves into the bedrock of any balanced breakfast. Known as the chameleons of the culinary world, they’re able to easily approximate the taste and texture of oatmeal, as well as its attractive nutritional profile.
Much like omega-3-rich salmon, sardines contain an ample amount of calcium. A 92-gram portion of sardines packs over 30% of the RDI for calcium.
Growing concern over heavy metal toxicity associated with fish consumption may make you hesitant to include sardines in your diet. However, sardines are a smaller fish and have minimal levels of mercury compared to larger fish like tuna.
4. Beans and lentils
Beans and lentils are typically a favorite among those on a plant-based diet, and for good reason. One serving (120 grams) of white beans packs a whopping 8 grams of fiber, along with magnesium, potassium, and upwards of 13% of the RDI for calcium.
Remember, though, you want to limit your intake of beans and lentils on the keto diet.
As if almonds aren’t already one heck of a health food, they are also the most calcium-rich of all nuts. Every 28 grams of almonds (about 22 nuts) has nearly 10% of the RDI for calcium.
Almond milk is plant milk, made out of, well…almonds! It’s a favorite imitation of milk among our vegan and keto friends.
Supplementing with Calcium on the Keto Diet
Chances are you’re wondering if you can just take a supplement on the keto diet to meet your calcium needs. In short: Yes and no.
Calcium from dietary supplements is not always as readily utilized by your body as calcium from whole foods. This is the same reason you can never replace the micronutrients from fruits and vegetables in your diet by just popping a multivitamin.
Is Milk Protein Really the Best Source of Essential Amino Acids?
While milk protein does have a potent profile of essential amino acids for supporting muscle building and recovery, it also can induce chronic low-grade inflammatory responses.
This is especially true of low-quality milk protein supplements which, unbeknownst to consumers, are rife in the dietary supplement realm.
As such, using something like milk protein powder is much like a seesaw of benefits vs. consequences.
Sure, you get the necessary amino acids for packing on lean mass and reducing body fat. You also might be ingesting harmful contaminants and inflammatory-inducing whey fractions (remember, whey protein comes from milk).
The conundrum you face, particularly if you’re on the vegan ketogenic diet, is getting those essential amino acids from plant sources only.
Plant proteins are not even close to milk protein in terms of essential amino acids per gram, nor do they have a comparable amount of L-leucine.
A prudent way to stay vegan – and keto-friendly while maintaining optimal essential amino acid intake is to supplement with a free-form amino acid supplement containing all nine essential amino acids.
While free-form amino acid supplements are not meant to replace protein from whole foods, they can be a dietary adjunct with many benefits. This is especially true before, during, and/or after diligent exercise.
Remember, free-form amino acids are also much quicker to enter your bloodstream and elevate muscle protein synthesis. There is minimal digestion necessary in comparison to whole-food protein.
- A dairy-free keto diet has a myriad of evidence-based health benefits, such as improving cardiovascular function, reducing inflammation, enhancing cognitive function, promoting healthy weight loss, and even decreasing the risk of cancer.
- Excessive dairy consumption appears to induce low-grade inflammatory responses, which can slowly damage tissues throughout your body
- For controlling inflammation, limit or avoid intake of dairy and dairy-based foods.
- There are a variety of non-dairy foods that can help you reach the RDI of calcium on the keto diet, like beans/lentils, almonds, chia seeds, and fatty fish.
- You do not need to consume milk protein just to build lean mass and reduce body fat. A free-form amino acid supplement and protein from non-dairy whole foods will be more than enough.