Calcium and protein intake in a plant-based diet


Today we are going to find out about the importance of proper protein and calcium intake in a plant-based dietary lifestyle, and for the occasion we interviewed a nutrition expert.

1. What is calcium and what are its functions?

Calcium is one of the minerals most commonly found in humans and is represented in the periodic table by the symbol (Ca).

It has the function of promoting bone mineralisation and the secretion of neurotransmitters. Finally, it enables skeletal and cardiac muscle contraction and plays an important role in neuromuscular excitability. It promotes the secretion of certain hormones and growth factors.


2. What calcium-rich foods can be included in a plant-based diet as an alternative to milk and dairy products?

Although the main sources of calcium are milk and dairy products, it is also found in abundance in some green leafy vegetables (green cabbage, broccoli, etc.) and dried legumes (beans, chickpeas, lentils, azuki beans).

Nuts have a good concentration of calcium, particularly almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts and pistachios. Oilseeds and soy are also an excellent source of it. Finally, we also find it in very good quantities in herbs and spices, but obviously, given the small amount consumed, it is more or less negligible.


3. How much calcium does the body need and in which parts of the body is it mainly contained?

The recommended daily amount of calcium is about 800 mg, but this also depends on lifestyle, age and state of health. A diet low in calcium can lead to muscle cramps, convulsions, drowsiness and heartbeat abnormalities. In the long term, it can lead to osteopenia and osteoporosis. Of course, excess can also lead to serious problems such as kidney failure, increased calcium in the urine, kidney stones and calcification of blood vessels and soft tissue.

More than 99% of the calcium in our bodies is contained in the skeleton, and thus in the bones.


4. Why is it important to incorporate the right amount of protein into the diet? What are they for?

Proteins are essential!

They make up skin, hair, bones, they produce hormones, they are the basis for a well-functioning immune system, and they are essential for muscle growth, especially for athletes.

A deficiency due to a sub-optimal diet leads our organism to sacrifice protein for energy, to obtain the energy necessary for survival. This occurs through muscle catabolism (destruction of muscle), which will therefore prevent an increase in muscle mass.

The protein requirement, according to the Italian LARN (Recommended Intake Levels of Nutrients) of all age groups and both sexes is approximately 0.71 to 1.11 grams of dietary protein per kilogram of body weight per day.


5. In place of meat and fish, which plant-based foods are recommended for a regular protein intake?

Today, more and more people are looking for different solutions to animal protein, is there an alternative solution? Of course!

Nine of the twenty-two amino acids contained in protein foods are defined as 'essential', i.e. our body is not able to produce them and therefore must obtain them through food. The combination of cereals with vegetables and legume varieties is the right technique to ensure a correct protein and amino acid intake in a diet where vegetable proteins are preferred to animal proteins.

Among foods of vegetable origin, I recommend quinoa, which contains all twenty-two amino acids, legumes, which offer excellent protein and low fat content, dried fruit, cereals, oilseeds, oats, brown rice, soy, cabbage, broccoli, spinach, Brussels sprouts and avocado are just some of the foods that offer everything needed for a diet low in animal protein.


6. You recommend a fresh dish with good protein and calcium content.

The dish that I recommend with an all-vegetable content that provides good protein and calcium is Pokè Bowl, a typical Hawaiian dish, which can easily be modified by replacing animal foodstuffs with plant foodstuffs.

My vegetable Poké is composed as follows


Soak the red adzuki beans for about 6 hours, drain them and blanch them for about 1 hour, only at the end add salt.

Drain them again and season with a little olive oil, add salt (if necessary) and allow to cool.

Cook and season the Nero rice with a little olive oil and set aside.

Soften the soy bites in boiling water for about 10 minutes, drain, squeeze and cook them with half a glass of vegetable stock for about 10 minutes, seasoning with curry.

Combine all your ingredients in a bowl and add the edamame soybeans, cucumber, tomatoes, carrots and fresh spring onion.

Once the dish is composed, sprinkle with the crunchy buckwheat and your Poké is ready!

We would like to thank Dr. Biologist Nutritionist Danila Lombardo for lending herself to this interview and for recommending her veg Hawaiian Poké recipe!