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Calcium Absorption: Soy Milk Versus Cow Milk

Soymilk (soya milk) should be shaken before pouring to get at the calcium that settles to the bottom.

August 28, 2011 |
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Supplementary Info

Sources Cited



 When you look at the nutrition facts label on soymilk it says it has the same amount of calcium as milk, but is it absorbed as well?  "Calcium absorption in osteopenic—meaning low bone mineral density—post-menopausal women: an acute comparative study of fortified soymilk to cows’ milk." Pretty self-explanetory.  What do you think thy found? Which works better?  soymilk,  calves' milk,  or the same?  And the answer is… the same.

There is, however, a caveat. When it comes to soy you’ve got to shake things up.  A prior study looked at a variety of calcium fortified soymilk and orange juice and they found that some of the calcium in soy settles to the bottom and so you really only get the amount it says on the label if you give it a good shake before you pour. So when the  carton says shake it up, you shouldn’t do it just because the label says so, or do it because I say so, you should it because the science says so.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Dianne Moore.

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Dr. Michael Greger

Doctor's Note

My calcium recommendation is to get least 600 mg daily via calcium-­rich plant foods—preferably low-­oxalate dark green leafy vegetables, which includes all greens except spinach, chard, and beet greens (all very healthy foods, but not good calcium sources due to their oxalate content). Check out the video Plant vs. Cow Calcium for more.

And for more from a practical perspective, check out my accompanying blog post Soy milk: shake it up. As well as my associated blog post, How to Enhance Mineral Absorption.

  • Michael Greger M.D.

    My calcium recommendation is to get least 600 mg daily via calcium-­rich plant foods—preferably low-­oxalate dark green leafy vegetables, which includes all greens except spinach, chard, and beet greens (all very healthy foods, but not good calcium sources due to their oxalate content). Check out the video Plant vs. Cow Calcium for more.

    And for more from a practical perspective, check out my accompanying blog post Soy milk: shake it up.


    Do you know the absorption rate of tahini,molasses and almonds?
    And I been told that in sprouted tahini there is disaccharide instead of oxalic acid which improve its absorption rate,is it true?
    Thanks for a good video,I will start shaking it up :)

    • Michael Greger M.D.

      Great question sagi! I bet you’d find this article interesting. The tahini calcium absorption would depend on whether the sesame seeds are roasted or raw, and whether the seeds are hulled (anyone know if hulling is typical for commercial tahini production?). Black strap molasses is one of the two sweeteners that’s actually good for you, but unfortunately don’t know about the calcium absorbability. I know almonds though! Between 14 and 21%, about half that of both milks (which are about 30-32%), and less than the superstars, low-oxalate greens (40%+). Never even heard of sprouted tahini, though. Let me know if you can dig up that reference and I’ll take a look at it.

      • kerem

        Wow.. The article about Traditional Food-Processing is so interesting.
        Maybe you’ll find this article interesting
        it’s a little tricky since as usual in those kind of article the way they see a serving size of green vegetables and the way vegans see it is very different..
        Shake it!!

  • MsAdventuress

    Love your blog comment on this…SO helpful! ♥

  • Benjamin Stone

    This holds equally true for all non-dairy milks. I see settling in almond milk (our staple milk) and hemp milk as well.

  • adamtgardener

    I appreciate your wanting to be balanced with comparisons. But comparing calcium from a plant to “calcium” from an animal unrelated to humans is one of the most overlooked aspects of studies and conclusions. Its’ like comparing the oils in plants to the lard or animal fat in any animal product. Plant oils are worlds apart from animal fats!!

    Going from a meat-eating diet for the first 34 years of my life into an organic, plant based diet entirely has “spawned” some very incredible, eye opening aha’s around the worlds’ apart nature between plant as food/medicine and animal flesh and products.

    At some point it would be nice to see researchers coming from a place that understands through experience that humans are not meant to be what is being referred to as an omnivore. Good heavens, even Kodiak bears will consume up to 92% of their diet as herbivore and put on pounds of bear fat from that source.

    What is needed is an awakening in America to the complacency people have around taking responsibility for their diseases. Was I the only one that heard…on national news…when the debate was just beginning on health care costs and a national insurance…that over 75% of the health care costs in America are preventable? My life is a living testament to a much higher percentage.

    But thank you and keep up the good work. It is a great service you are providing.

  • Lisa21012

    Is there any difference between cow’s milk and goat or sheep’s milk?

    • Michael Greger M.D.

      Calcium availability is similar between cow, goat, human, and sheep milk according to this 1995 Belgian study.

      Keep the questions coming Lisa!

      • vetstud

        Is goat cheese, then, no better for one’s health than cheese made from cow’s milk? Some friends of mine seem to think it is. (It may also be that they think the way goats are treated is preferable to the treatment of most dairy cows.)

        • Michael Greger M.D.

          Looking at hard goat cheese versus cow cheddar on the USDA nutrient database, it appears as though goat has 15% more saturated fat and 3 times the cholesterol but 83% less sodium.

  • David Meadows

    What about supplementing with powdered calcium carbonate product mixed into something like tomato juice or other pulpy drink (per the instructions on the label)? If absorption is low, would increasing the intake amount suffice or is there a “law of diminishing returns”? I have kale every morning in my green smoothie, but I also supplement with powdered calcium at night. Good? Bad? Indifferent? Any better suggestions for a supplement?

    • Toxins

      Hello David!

      In all honesty, the daily requirement of 1500 mg of calcium per day is extraordinarily high. That “requirement” has a lot of corporate backing to it and we really absorb very little calcium. Dr. McDougall states that “It seems likely that normal people can adapt to have a normal calcium balance on calcium intakes as low as 150-200 mg/day and that this adaptation is sufficient even in pregnancy and lactation.”
      Unless you experience starvation, calcium deficiency has actually have ever occurred. This emphasis on calcium is a marketing technique used by the dairy counsel. Dr. McDougall has made the statement that if we actually did absorb all the calcium required by the daily value, our organs would calcify.

      If you are simply worrying about plant calcium vs animal calcium, the bio availability of plant calcium is more easily absorbed than dairy sources

      Based on all the evidence presented, it is unnecessary, and a poor use of money to invest in calcium supplementation.

  • Tan Truong

    I get my calcium from plants such as kale and broccoli and also So Nice soy drink (for the lazy in me). So good to feel alive.

  • jack.cyp

    What are your comments regarding a recent ‘comment’ in youf FB site regarding ‘..cow’s milk will actually cause osteoporosis due to acidifying of the body that ends up depleting calcium from our bones that are released when we drink cow’s milk.’


  • Mfrimu

    Hello,Recent studies, seem to indicate that taking calcium supplements may increase the risk of heart attack. Since soy milk is fortified, which would mean the calcium is not naturally occurring in soy milk, would it not be the same as a supplement?
    was wondering if consuming soy milk (fortified with calcium) is considered the equivalent of consuming supplements.Any studies comparing these alternate methods of supplementation? (fortified vs pills)Thanks,Mihai

  • Michael Greger M.D.

    Also be sure to check out my associated blog post Soymilk: shake it up!

  • WW131

    What about the carageenan in soy milk?

    • Toxins

      Carrageenan is an indigestible family of large molecules obtained from seaweed.
      Large amounts of carrageenan have harmed test animals’ colons; the small amounts
      in food are safe.

  • Val in Australia

    Wondering if you might do a feature on whether or not to take calcium supplements (especially post menopause, elderly etc)? I can’t possibly eat enough volume of plant based food to get the recommended amount. I am taking Vit D3. Why is it humans need to supplement for calcium, when our animal friends don’t (thinking of elephants)?

    • Don Forrester MD

      The best comprehensive review of the literature is by Amy Lanou in her book, Building Bone Vitality. She reviews over 1200 studies… take home message is that exercise helps, animal products especially dairy are bad and calcium supplementation is not helpful. The best hypothesis is that it is about acid load which is explained nicely in her book. Although Dr. Greger reported on a meta-analysis not supporting this hypothesis… see, I am reluctant to put alot of weight in meta analyses due to statistical problems in combining studies. I would recommend that you start by reading John McDougall’s excellent article in his February 2007 newsletter entitled, When friends ask: Where do you get your Calcium. Humans don’t need to take supplemental calcium. Vitamin D is important but best obtained from the sun unless that is not possible. For the complicated issues around Vit D view the excellent series of nine posts by Dr. Greger beginning on December 5, 2011. The medical profession is doing alot of testing and prescribing of Vitamin D. I would refer you to another McDougall article in his March 2011 newsletter entitled Vit D: Values for normal are exaggerated. Dr. Greger did a post which showed omnivores vs vegan on bone density which showed no difference… see It is all somewhat confusing but stay tuned to NutritionFacts for the latest science. Hope this helps.

  • Ana

    Sesame has 10 times more calcium than any PUS milk –we are not quadrupeds! Dairy is scary/horrific. Tahine, plants, beans, etc. But to help our bones, we also need Vitmanin D, Magnesium and Calcium at ratio of 3:1. I ery often hear that our bones dont need calcium after 21 years old, but they need exercise to be in good shape.

  • uv

    useful info, thanks!

  • Osteoporotic

    Does the oxalate in spinach prevent/reduce the absorption of calcium from other greens eaten in the same meal? Do I need to separate my greens into different meals?

    • Thea

      Osteoporotic: I believe I once heard Brenda Davis (famous dietician) answer this question. If I remember correctly, I believe she said it was not a worry. If for example, you eat kale with spinach, you still get all the calcium you would from kale even though you are eating the spinach. Hopefully someone with a more definitive answer will reply, but I thought I would reply now just in case no one else does.

  • J B

    Hi Dr. Greger, reviewing your website and others (veganrd and it seems like getting calcium in the range of 600 – 1000 mg / day is important. When I look at my own diet, it seems like getting up that high requires a huge amount of greens and/or fortified nut milks (I prefer hemp). The calcium in commercial hemp milk seems to come from calcium triphosphate. If I make my own hemp milk, should I add this compound to it? Does this have the same drawbacks as phosphate preservatives in chicken etc.?