Allergic to Dairy? Use this Guide

By Jordan Stachel, MS, RDN

August 30, 2022

Dairy Allergies

Lactose intolerance, or a dairy allergy/sensitivity, is more common than you might think. Many people choose to omit dairy from their diets due to how dairy makes them feel. If you are someone with a dairy allergy, use this guide for helpful tips on how to get enough calcium day-to-day using non-dairy sources of calcium and how to build them into your diet and routine.

Calcium

Before learning about the non-dairy sources of calcium, it can be helpful to have a little more background information on why calcium is vital for the body. Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body, and it is needed in ample quantities to make up the structure of the bones and teeth adequately. As you age, calcium is also needed to help prevent fractures as it preserves the strength and integrity of the bones.

It is currently recommended that most adults get around 1000 milligrams of calcium daily. It is notable, however, that children, the elderly, and pregnant women have a slightly higher demand for calcium (around 1200-1300 milligrams per day).

One of the easiest ways to determine if a food item is a good source of calcium is to check the nutrition label. The food labels can tell you if a given item has calcium. If a portion of food provides at least 10% of the daily value for calcium, it is considered to be a good source. It is considered a great source if it provides at least 20% of the daily value.

So, how can you get more calcium without consuming dairy products? Read on to learn more.

Non-Dairy Foods with Calcium

Many plant-based foods are excellent sources of calcium. In descending order, some plant-based foods that are good sources of calcium include fortified orange juice, fortified soymilk, tofu, soybeans, fortified breakfast cereals, spinach, kale, chia seeds, and beans. Animal sources, such as canned sardines and salmon with bones in them, are also fantastic sources of calcium that do not contain dairy.

When food labels indicate that they are “fortified” with calcium, it means that the food manufacturers have added calcium into the food to help boost its nutritional value.

Use these non-dairy meal and snack ideas to help increase your calcium intake:

  • Breakfast: chia seed pudding topped with berries and slivered almonds
  • Snack: fortified breakfast cereal with fortified soymilk
  • Lunch: salmon salad with a side of veggies
  • Snack: edamame beans
  • Dinner: stir fry with chicken, sautéed spinach, and brown rice

With non-dairy sources of calcium, it is also critical to discuss the oxalate content of certain plant-based foods. Oxalates are naturally occurring compounds in leafy greens, fruits, cocoa, nuts, and seeds.

Oxalates bind to minerals, including calcium, and lessen the body’s ability to absorb them. Spinach, for example, although high in calcium, is also high in oxalates, so it is important for people who do not consume dairy products to know which plants are high in oxalates to help ensure a variety of plant-based calcium sources so that they are not over intaking oxalates and, as a result, hindering calcium intake/absorption.

A couple of helpful tips to make these non-dairy foods high in oxalates more bioavailable is to cook the dark, leafy greens rather than eating them raw. Additionally, you can prepare these greens with an acid source such as lemon juice and/or vinegar, which helps to boost the body’s ability to absorb calcium.

Find Non-Dairy Alternatives You Enjoy

Many people find that, with a dairy allergy, their choices historically have become more limited due to the omission of so many foods. However, this doesn’t need to be the case, as there are many non-dairy alternatives out there now that are also fortified with calcium in them.

Here are some non-dairy brand substitutes for dairy-based products below (pro-tip: call ahead to your local market to see if they carry some of these brands before you go):

  • Non-dairy cheeses: Miyokos, Follow Your Heart, Kite Hill, Violife, Daiya
    • Experiment with making yourself a cheese quesadilla by trying one of these non-dairy cheese brands above.
  • Non-dairy kinds of milk: Califia Farms, Ripple, Whole Foods 365, Silk, Pacific Foods
    • There are many plant-based kinds of milk on the market (including almonds, oat, soy, hemp, flax, pea, cashew, macadamia, and more). Experiment with a couple of different brands or types of plant-based kinds of milk to find which you prefer.
  • Non-dairy butter: Earth Balance, Miyokos, Country Crock, Kite Hill
    • Don’t sacrifice flavor due to your dairy allergy and the omission of butter. Instead, try out some of these alternatives on your favorite toast.

What are your favorite non-dairy foods and sources of calcium, and how do you enjoy them?

Jordan Stachel holds a Master’s degree in Nutrition and Dietetics from The University of Southern California and is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist. She has several years of experience helping clients reach their health goals through her clinical work within private practice. Jordan is most fulfilled when guiding others towards making stepwise, sustainable changes that add up to big results over time. Jordan works with a wide variety of individuals, ranging in age from children to the elderly, with an assortment of concerns and clinical conditions. She helps individuals optimize overall health and/or manage disease states using personalized medical nutrition therapy techniques.

References:

  1. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Calcium-HealthProfessional/
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24393738/
  3. https://extension.psu.edu/nondairy-foods-with-calcium
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