How can a lactose intolerant person get calcium?

Marisa Moore
Nutrition & Dietetics

There are lots of ways to get calcium if you’re lactose intolerant.

If you enjoy the taste of milk, try a lactose-free or lactose reduced milk. These products provide the same nutrients as regular milk but the lactase enzyme has been added to break down the lactose for you. There are several brands available so try them out to see which one you like best. Most people who are lactose intolerant can tolerate hard cheeses (like aged cheddar and parmesan) and yogurt with no problem at all. One cup of nonfat yogurt contains just as much calcium as a cup of milk. You might also find that you can tolerate small amounts of regular milk (up to a cup at a time) without any symptoms.

There are also plenty of non-dairy calcium sources. Calcium-fortified orange juice and cereals, tofu and non-dairy milk products are all good choices. It's easy to find soy, almond, rice and hemp milk on the market these days. See which ones you like best. Just be sure to check the package to make sure that it has been fortified with calcium. Aim for 30% calcium per 1 cup serving – which is comparable to the amount you’d get from milk.

You might be surprised to learn that canned pink salmon (with soft bones) and sardines are great sources of calcium. And there are several veggies that are good sources of calcium including Bok Choy, broccoli, Chinese cabbage, collard greens, kale, turnip greens and okra to name a few.

Calcium supplements are an option for some people. It’s important however to account for the calcium you get from food so that you don’t overdo it.

Karen Graham
Nutrition & Dietetics

Try taking a daily calcium supplement. There are a few important things you to know about calcium supplements. First, your body does not absorb more that 500mg at a time so don't bother buying a calcium supplement that has 1000mg per tablet. Buy a 500mg tablet and take it several times a day depending on your needs. The other thing you need to know is; what FORM of calcium are you taking? Calcium carbonate needs to be taken with food in order for it to get absorbed into the body. Calcium citrate needs to be taken on an empty stomach. The last thing you want to do is take a calcium supplement every day but then not get the benefits from it.

Dr. Pina LoGiudice, LAc, ND
Naturopathic Medicine

Watch as Naturopathic Doctor and Licensed Acupuncturist Dr. Pina LoGiudice suggests how a lactose intolerent person can get calcium in their diet without having to rely on dairy.

It can be difficult to get adequate calcium levels when you are lactose intolerant since your body has a difficult time digesting dairy products. Calcium is needed for bone strength as well as muscle function, both of which are important to being athletically fit. Dark leafy greens such as spinach and collard greens are high in calcium, as are edamame (green soybeans). Other calcium options are almonds, broccoli, and calcium-fortified orange juice.

(This answer provided for NATA by the Appalachian State University Athletic Training Education Program.)
The lactose, or milk sugar, in dairy products can be difficult for some people to digest. If you have trouble digesting lactose, try the following tips to make sure you get the nutrients you need:
  • Look for dairy products (such as Lactaid or Dairy Ease) that have been pre-treated with lactose enzymes.
  • Use a lactase supplement (such as Lactaid or Dairy Relief) before drinking milk or eating ice cream.
  • Use calcium-enriched soy milk, rice milk, and almond milk. These dairy alternatives are lactose-free.
  • Yogurt, cottage cheese, and cheese are lower in lactose than milk. Try them to see if you can tolerate these foods.

Continue Learning about Lactose Intolerance

Lactose Intolerance

Lactose Intolerance

Lactose intolerance is an inability to digest lactose, a sugar found in milk and some dairy products. Common symptoms include cramps, bloating, gas, nausea and diarrhea soon after ingesting a problem food. Levels of lactose vary a...

mong dairy products, however, so buttermilk and cheeses, which have less lactose than milk, might digest fine. Goats milk, fermented milk products such as yogurt, aged cheeses, ice cream, soy milk, rice milk and lactose-free milk products are other options.

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.