Whole, plant-based foods have been shown to be a better source of calcium than animal-based foods (i.e., dairy products such as milk, yogurt, and cheese). We can absorb calcium more easily from plant-based foods because it’s easier for our bodies to digest and break down the nutrients that are in plant-based foods. We typically absorb 40-60% of the calcium that we consume from plant-based foods, whereas we only absorb about 30% of calcium that we consume from dairy while the remaining 70% goes right through us and gets eliminated.
Proteins from animal-based foods are acidic. When animal-based proteins get absorbed into our blood, they are acidic, which, by the way, is one way that our bodies create free radicals. Our body’s only available resource that can neutralize the acid from digested animal-based food is calcium. And where do you suppose our bodies store an ample supply of calcium? Our bones, and our bodies know to extract calcium from our bones when it needs to neutralize the acidity. That calcium then gets excreted in our urine. Proteins digested from plant-based foods are less acidic than proteins digested from animal-based foods, so there’s no need for our bodies to leach and excrete calcium from our bones when we eat plant-based foods.
So we’re hit with a double-whammy by consuming animal-based foods: we absorb only about a third of the calcium that we consume plus at the same time we deplete calcium from our bones. And interestingly, osteoporosis happens to be highest in those countries that consume the highest amount of calcium from animal-based sources.
On the other hand, when we consume plant-based foods, we absorb more calcium and have higher retention of the calcium. Together, these factors enable our bodies to better utilize the calcium.