How to Choose Dairy-Free High Calcium Foods
If you're lactose-intolerant or cannot eat dairy, here are some other ways to boost your calcium intake.
Getting enough calcium in your diet without consuming dairy can be tricky. Although many foods contain calcium, there are not many that are as high in the nutrient as dairy items. Depending on your needs and dietary retstictions, it is possible to consume healthy amounts of calcium without dairy. Here is a look at how much calcium you need, how dairy and non-dairy sources compare and how to find a breakdown that makes sense for you.
How Much Calcium Do You Need?
The amount of calcium you need varies by age and gender. Women and men between 19 and 50 years old (including women who are pregnant and breastfeeding) need 1,000 mg per day. Men between the ages of 51-70 years also need 1,000 mg per day. Women between 51-70 years and men and women 71 years and older need 1,200 mg of calcium per day.
The Best Sources of Calcium
Milk and dairy products are some of the top sources of calcium. For example, 8 ounces of plain yogurt provides 415 mg or 32% the recommended daily amount. One cup of nonfat milk, 1.5 ounces of part-skim mozzarella cheese, and 1.5 ounces of cheddar cheese provide 23%, 26%, and 24% of the recommended daily amount, respectively. Milk and other dairy foods also contain nutrients like protein, which are important for overall health. That said, if you cannot or choose not to eat dairy products, there are some other sources of calcium you can consume. Some of these sources may be fortified with calcium.
- 1 cup calcium-fortified orange juice: 349 mg (27% the recommended daily value)
- 3 oz sardines canned in oil with the bones: 325 mg (25% the recommended daily value)
- 1 cup calcium-fortified soy milk: 299 mg (23% the recommended daily value)
- 1/2 cup tofu made with calcium sulfate: 253 mg (19% the recommended daily value)
What About Plant-Based Milk?
According to the 2020-2025 dietary guidelines for Americans, plant-based beverages like almond, oat, hemp, coconut, and rice beverages can also be consumed as a source of calcium. However, they don’t contain all the 13 essential nutrients found in milk and therefore are not classified as a "milk" in the nutritional sense. The only exception is soy milk, which does have a nutrient composition similar to dairy milk. If you choose to consume plant-based beverages as a source of calcium, be sure to read the nutrition facts label.
You may have heard that green left vegetables contain calcium, however, the number is actually quite low to be meaningful compared to milk or fortified sources. For example, kale contains calcium. However, you would need to eat 17 cups of raw kale to get the same amount of calcium found in 1 cup of milk (about 20%). Many of us love kale, but that’s just a lot of it.
There are a variety of dairy and non-dairy sources of calcium, however, to meet your dairy recommended amount make sure you consume foods that are good or excellent sources and don’t rely only on foods that have minimal amounts. If you're concerned about your calcium intake, consult your healthcare provider to find out if additional supplementation or dietary changes are necessary.
Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian and consultant who specializes in food safety and culinary nutrition. She is the author of The Greek Yogurt Kitchen: More Than 130 Delicious, Healthy Recipes for Every Meal of the Day.
*This article was written and/or reviewed by an independent registered dietitian nutritionist.
**Toby Amidor is an ambassador for National Dairy Council.