Lactose Intolerant? Here’s How to Get Calcium Without Dairy Products 

Calcium doesn’t just contribute to strong bone and teeth health – it’s a mineral that plays a vital role in muscle contraction, blood clotting and the regulation of normal heart rhythms and nerve functions.  

Simply put, our blood and tissues need a steady stream of calcium to perform. The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for calcium for most adults is about 1,000 daily milligrams (mg).  

If you are lactose intolerant and your body disagrees with dairy, reaching that calcium threshold can become challenging, since dairy products like milk, cheese and yogurt contain significant calcium.    

But “challenging” doesn’t mean “impossible!” Here is how to get calcium without dairy:  

Alternative milks 

Soy milks and nut milks are popular among vegan and vegetarian diets, but they can also be a boon to those who are lactose intolerant. Across most brands, one cup of unsweetened soy milk offers about 30% of a person’s daily calcium intake, per the 1,000 mg RDA.  

Alternative yogurts  

Much like milk, yogurts made from soy, almonds or coconuts can be excellent sources of calcium.  

Eight ounces of most soy, almond or coconut milk yogurt brands can represent up 25-30% of your recommended calcium intake for the day, depending on the regular or unsweetened variety you choose. 

Canned fish  

If sardines and salmon don’t make you squeamish, give them a try.  

Three-ounce containers of canned sardines in olive oil can make up about 30 to 32% of your daily calcium intake, while three-ounce cans of salmon hover between 18-20%. Just remember that the bones and skin in these canned fish products contain a good amount of the calcium supply, so you’ll want to leave them in.  

Try mixing the fish with lemon juice, one of the alternative yogurts or a little bit of mayo and your favorite herbs and spices to make it more palatable.  

Leafy green vegetables  

Here’s a breakdown of the best vegetables (one cup, cooked, for each) to eat if you’re hunting for calcium:  

  • Collard greens: 100 mg (10%)  
  • Spinach: 245 mg (24.5%) 
  • Kale: 180 mg (18%) 
  • Mustard greens: 103 mg (10%) 
  • Bok Choy: 160 mg (16%) 

Other foods worth mentioning 

Tofu, especially products fortified with calcium sulfate, is another major source of calcium. With only 1/4 of a block of this type of tofu, you can get almost half of your daily intake of calcium, depending on the brand, and whether you choose firm or soft.  

This one may seem out of left field, but did you know that one tablespoon of blackstrap molasses offers a shade under 100 mg (9 to 9.5%) of your daily calcium intake? 

Just one ounce of roasted and toasted sesame seeds contains a whopping 270 mg of calcium, or 27% of your daily intake. One tablespoon of chia seeds, which can be added to a smoothie mixture, offer 8% of your calcium intake.   

In the bean family, white beans are your best bet for calcium. 

One cup of cooked white beans yields about 160 mg of calcium, about 16% of your daily intake. One cup of chickpeas gives you 9% of that intake.  

When you’re done eating, go outside and get some sunshine! Generally, about 5 to 15 minutes a day of sunlight exposure helps the body absorb the vitamin D it needs from the sun’s UV rays. Important for your bones, blood cells, and immune system, vitamin D also helps you take in and use calcium.  

Photo credit: Getty Images

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