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Lactose Intolerant? How To Get Calcium Without Dairy

Are you lactose intolerant? Are you having trouble meeting your body’s nutritional needs?

Whether clinically or self-diagnosed, this is a problem that occurs in more people that you think. Approximately 65% of the entire population has a reduced ability to digest lactose after the stage of infancy. Lactose intolerance in adulthood is most prevalent in people of East Asian descent, affecting more than 90% of adults in some of these communities.

Lactose intolerance is the inability to digest a sugar called lactose that is found in milk and other dairy products. Normally when a person eats something containing lactose, an enzyme in the small intestine, lactase, breaks down lactose into simpler sugar forms called glucose and galactose.

This intolerance is a consequence of lactase deficiency, which may be genetic or environmentally induced. In either case, symptoms are caused by insufficient levels of lactase in the lining of the duodenum.

Could you be lactose intolerant?

Many people may not know they even have this specific intolerance. You might notice that you have stomach pains and are uncomfortable after eating meals, but you probably tack it off to overeating or that you had a greasy meal.

This could be the cause, or you could be eating something your body doesn’t deal with very well. Eliminating specific foods out of your diet that trigger certain symptoms to occur is a great way to start the process of realizing you could be lactose intolerant. If you are having serious symptoms without knowledge of the cause please seek advice from your Primary Care Physician.

Your doctor can confirm the diagnosis by conducting one or more of the following tests:

  • Lactose tolerance test. The lactose tolerance test gauges your body’s reaction to a liquid that contains high levels of lactose
  • Hydrogen breath test
  • Stool acidity test

Where do you go from here?

So you’ve found out that you’re lactose intolerant, or your body just doesn’t agree with the lactase. Where do you go from here? Milk, yogurt, cheese – these are all foods that contain very high amounts of protein and are put into pretty much everything that we eat! Not to mention our favorites, pizza & ice cream!

No worries, you don’t have to give up your favorite foods. Just find ways to substitute! There are so many varieties and options out there that can help you get through this. Our world is constantly coming up with new food choices to help accustom all types of diets and intolerances. There are brands that make foods solely for those who struggle with issue: So Delicious, Daiya, GoVeggie, Silk, Tofutti, etc. Check your local grocery store or ask the manager if they have lactose free options available for you if you’re unsure.

Here are some ideas on how to swap out your favorite dairy ingredients, for more gastrointestinal friendly options:

Swap This For That

  • Shredded Cheddar Cheese for Almond Milk Shredded Cheese
  • Greek Yogurt for So Delicious Coconut Milk Yogurt
  • Butter for Smart Balance/Earth Balance Dairy Free Butter
  • Ice Cream for Ben & Jerry’s Non-Dairy (Yes this is real!)
  • Cream Cheese for Tofutti Cream Cheese
  • Cow’s Milk for Almond milk, Coconut Milk, Soy Milk

Lactose intolerance and calcium intake

Calcium: Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for adults
Men Daily RDA Daily upper limit
19-50 years 1,000 mg 2,500 mg
51-70 years 1,000 mg 2,000 mg
71 and older 1,200 mg 2,000 mg
Women Daily RDA Daily upper limit
19-50 years 1,000 mg 2,500 mg
51 and older 1,200 mg 2,000 mg

A big challenge for people who are lactose intolerant is learning how to eat to avoid discomfort and to get enough calcium for healthy bones. You might think that your body will suffer and lack nutrients because of this intolerance, but there are many ways we can go around the lactose and still get the calcium that we need.

To absorb calcium, your body also needs vitamin D. Be sure you are consuming enough vitamin D with your calcium supplementation. Also remember, like any other nutrient, too little or too much calcium has risks!

Ways To Supplement Calcium Intake Without The Lactose

  • Calcium Supplement = 600 mg
  • 1/2 cup Tofu = 430 mg
  • 3.75oz can Sardines = 350 mg
  • 1 cup Collard Greens  = 268 mg
  • 1/2 can Salmon = 230 mg
  • 1 cup White Beans = 190 mg
  • 1/2 c Figs = 120 mg
  • 2/3 c Broccoli Rabe = 100 mg
  • 1 c Kale  = 100 mg
  • 1 c Edamame = 98 mg
  • 1 Tbsp Sesame Seeds = 88 mg
  • 1 Orange = 74 mg
  • 1 oz Almonds = 73 mg

Take home message

You’ll find there are many ways to make sure that you’re reaching your daily calcium intake without being uncomfortable and having to consume lactose! Don’t give up your favorite foods, find ways to substitute and accommodate these things into your new diet!

Our articles should be used for informational and educational purposes only and are not intended to be taken as medical advice. If you’re concerned, consult a health professional before taking dietary supplements or introducing any major changes to your diet.



Writer and expert

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