Continuing with this month’s series on boosting your plant-based intake with smoothies, this week we’re going to delve into calcium-rich ingredients that are great in smoothies. Between my posts on protein-rich smoothie ingredients, iron-rich smoothie ingredients and this one, you’re well on your way to having the nutritional big hitters covered just by supercharging your smoothies!
Just to reiterate from my more general post a few weeks back on plant-based foods that are high in calcium, pay attention to the quantities you consume at one time. Your body cannot absorb more than 500 mg at once, so don’t load up on supplements containing the 1,000+ daily minimum and assume that it’s a one-and-done. No matter where you get your calcium from, spread it out throughout the day to maximize absorption.
Smoothies are a handy way to do this. “Calcium-rich” ingredients vary in terms of how much calcium they actually contain, but in terms of absorption, this is a good thing. The following is not an exhaustive list of all the calcium-rich plant foods you might consider using in a smoothie, but by considering how much calcium each item provides in a serving, you can build one that meets your needs and ensures that it will all be absorbed.
So let’s get to it!
The first, and arguably the top, item on this list is calcium-fortified plant milks. Because plant milks tend not to contain as much of any nutrient as the foods that they came from, manufacturers typically fortify them with calcium and vitamins such as A, D and B-12 in order to make them more appealing substitutes for dairy milk. While this may not sound all that nutritious, keep in mind that you’re still sparing yourself all the cholesterol and hormones (naturally occurring and injected) from a cow every time you pass up dairy, and the nutrients in dairy are seriously not worth it when you consider how easy they are to come by in the plant world sans artery cloggers.
Anyhoo, most commercially manufactured plant milks are on par with dairy in that one cup provides anywhere from 30 to 45 percent of your daily minimum (see examples above, from my Great Value soy milk and Kroger’s Simple Truth-brand almond milk). I often use 1.5 cups of plant milk in one smoothie if the other ingredients don’t grind down easily in the food processor. Consider both the amount of calcium your chosen plant milk contains per cup and how much of it you plan to use in order to ensure that all you’re consuming will actually be absorbed.
Strawberries, halved, contain 24 mg of calcium per cup, or roughly 2.5 percent of your daily recommended calcium. Buy these in the frozen section, use up to 1.5 cups with one banana, cinnamon, sweetener and 1 to 1.5 cups of the plant milk of your choice for a tasty breakfast option. If you want to bulk it up a bit and add fiber, consider adding 2 tbsp of ground flaxseed for an additional 4 percent (about 40 mg) of your daily minimum.
I’m not gonna lie, I’ve been on quite the chia seed kick lately. One reason is that twice so far this summer, I’ve received a medium-sized watermelon either for free (finish-line swag from a race on the 4th of July!) or in my bi-weekly Foodshare stash. What’s a girl gonna do with this much watermelon? Um…chop and pack up half for lunches at work and freeze the other half in plastic containers for smoothies!
I’ve been making watermelon-chia smoothies almost daily for the past week or so, and they never get old! These contain a small amount (about 15 mg) of calcium from the watermelon and another 90 mg of calcium – 9 percent of your daily minimum – from just one tbsp of chia seeds! Add a cup or so of plant milk, and you’re all set on calcium for the next little while!
Spinach contains 29 g of calcium per cup raw. In smoothies, I like to at least double this amount in order to get a legitimately “green” smoothie – and closer to 6 percent of my calcium from the spinach. My favorite green smoothie contains 2 cups of spinach, 2 frozen bananas, 1 tsp of cinnamon, 2 tbsp ground flax seed, 2 packets of stevia and about 1.5 cups plant milk. I favor soy over almond if I’ve just been strength training and I need more protein, and for me, this often yields about 1.5 smoothies!
(Raise your hand if you’ve ever stuck your straw straight into the blender when your smoothie glass was already full!)
Oranges, particularly in the form of fresh-squeezed orange juice, are yet another way to add calcium to a smoothie. One small orange contains about 40 mg of calcium, or 4 percent of your daily minimum. This source has one cup worth at 72 mg, or 6 % (assuming a 1,200 mg daily minimum). Either way, for having such a high water content that it may as well just be juice, it stacks up better than a lot of other fruits with regards to calcium.
If the strawberry-banana combo seems like it could use a little extra something (or if you just want to meet your daily fruit quota in one smoothie), try substituting fresh-squeezed orange juice for your plant milk or use some of each for a tasty strawberry-orange-banana treat. Don’t forget the flaxseed!
Blackberries are a bit of an unsung hero among fruits and superfoods. In the latter category, “berries” get a fair amount of attention, but we don’t typically think of blackberries in particular as a smoothie ingredient as opposed to a cobbler or other warm dessert. Well, let me just tell you – they’re great in smoothies, too! Two of my favorites are a blackberry-flax smoothie, which is almost the cold version of a slice of blackberry pie, and a PB&J smoothie with blackberries (and ¼ cup of peanut butter in place of the ground flax seed).
Like the flax seed, one cup of blackberries contains about 4 percent of your daily recommended calcium, so by pairing with flax seed and the plant milk of your choice, it’s easy to get to 40 or 50 percent of your daily minimum in just one smoothie!
So now we’ve not only looked at some calcium-rich smoothie ingredients, but I’ve also given you a couple of suggested smoothie ingredient combos so you can try them out and see for yourself.
I’d love for you to give one of these a try (or let me know what variations you’re already making) and let me know what you think in the comments below!