For people in Western countries, the vegan diet has the advantage of low energy intake, but the calcium status of this strictly plant-based diet is still unclear. The aim of this study was to determine the calcium balance of individuals on a vegan diet in comparison with a lactovegetarian diet in a short-term investigation. Seven women and one man, ranging in age from 19 to 24 years, received during the first 10 days a vegan diet based on plant foods and calcium-rich mineral water and a lactovegetarian diet during the following 10 days. Portion size was adapted to the subjects' individual energy requirements. Calcium status was assessed by means of calcium intake in food and calcium output in feces and urine as measured by flame atomic absorption spectrophotometry. In addition, deoxypyridinoline was measured in urine as a marker of bone resorption. The results show a significantly smaller daily calcium intake with an average of 843 +/- 140 mg in the vegan versus 1322 +/- 303 mg in the lactovegetarian diet. Apparent calcium absorption rates were calculated as 26% +/- 15% in the vegan and 24% +/- 8% in the lactovegetarian group (NS). The calcium balance was positive both in the vegan diet (119 +/- 113 mg/day) and in the lactovegetarian diet (211 +/- 136 mg/day) (NS). Deoxypyridinoline excretion showed no significant difference between the two diets (105 +/- 31 and 98 +/- 23 nmol/day). The present results indicate that calcium balance and a marker of bone turnover are not affected significantly when calcium is provided either solely by plant foods or by a diet including dairy products, despite the significantly different calcium intake levels in the diets. We conclude that a well-selected vegan diet maintains calcium status, at least for a short-term period.