Lactose Intolerant? Alternative Ways To Get Your Calcium

What is lactose intolerance? It is the inability to digest lactose, which is a sugar found in cow’s milk and dairy products. This is different than a milk allergy. Allergies cause immediate responses and may be life-threatening. An intolerance is usually not as serious and generally a digestive problem (1).

What is calcium and why do we need it?

Calcium is a mineral your body needs in building and maintaining strong bones. It is also optimal for muscle function, nerve transmission and hormone secretion (2). Your body does not make calcium, so you must consume sources of it. Inadequate amounts of calcium may lead to poor bone health and other health problems. Children may not reach their full potential adult height and adults may have low bone mass possibly leading to osteoporosis (3).

Therefore, it is important for everyone to get adequate amounts of calcium in their diet. The recommended amount of calcium per day depends on age and gender.

Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) for Calcium

Common foods that contain lactose are cheese, milk, yogurt and ice cream. These products are the more popular sources of calcium but not tolerable for individuals who are lactose intolerant. Some other hidden sources of lactose may be in cereals, breads, salad dressings, cookies, cakes and candy.

Check your food labels for words such as milk, lactose, whey, curds, milk by-products, dry milk solids or non-fat milk powder (4). These words state that the product contains sources of lactose and those intolerant should stay away from them depending on level of intolerance. Some people are able to tolerate minor amounts without any effects.

However, there are plenty of other non dairy foods that contain calcium (4).

1. Dark, leafy, green vegetables: kale (1 cup = 100 mg), collard greens (1 cup = 350 mg), broccoli

2. Nuts and seeds: almonds (1/4 cup = 100 mg), sesame seeds

3. Fish with edible soft bones such as canned salmon, anchovies and sardines (3 oz = 325 mg)
4. Soy products: edamame beans (1/2 cup = 130 mg), tofu
5. Beans: chickpeas, pinto beans, white beans, navy beans
6. Fortified juices, beverages, cereals, milk substitutes (almond/soy/rice milk). Try to look for foods that state “calcium-fortified” or “fortified with calcium.”

It is best to get calcium from foods alone. However, if it is difficult to get your recommended calcium intake, a calcium supplement may be considered. One should speak to their health care provider before beginning supplementation as it may cause possible side effects.