How to get your calcium if you're lactose-intolerant

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Being lactose intolerant limits your sources of calcium.
Being lactose intolerant limits your sources of calcium.

With research finding that the body prefers calcium from food, not supplements, it can be a challenge to meet daily requirements if you're lactose-intolerant.

On average, adults need about 1 000 milligrams of calcium a day. Fortunately, there are choices within many food groups that deliver on calcium.

Leafy greens are a great calcium source, and at the top of the list are cooked spinach, collard and turnip greens. Salad lovers, reach for raw kale.

Calcium content in greens

  • Cooked spinach, collard greens and turnip greens, 1 cup: 200mg
  • Raw kale, 1 cup: 90mg

Among legumes, beans and white beans in particular are calcium-rich, as are green soybeans, better known as edamame. Some brands of firm tofu made with calcium sulphate have more than half the daily requirement in a serving – check nutrition labels before you buy.

Calcium content in legumes

  • Cooked white beans, 1 cup: 160mg
  • Green soybeans, 1 cup: 260mg
  • Firm tofu, 3.5 ounces: up to 650mg

Some seeds and nuts also pack in calcium along with their unique mix of healthy fats, protein and carbohydrates. Choices include sesame seeds and tahini (sesame seed butter), chia seeds and amaranth, a seed that cooks up like a grain. Enjoy almonds as a snack or spread almond butter on your morning toast.

Calcium content in seeds and nuts

  • Sesame seeds, 1 ounce: 280mg
  • Tahini, 2 tablespoons: 100mg
  • Chia seeds, 2 tablespoons: 180mg
  • Amaranth, 1/2 cup uncooked: 150mg
  • Almond butter, 1 tablespoon: 90mg
  • Almonds, 20: 60mg

Among fruits, fresh and dried figs, oranges and tangy rhubarb all have some calcium.

Calcium content in fruits

  • Dried figs, 1/2 cup: 120mg
  • Fresh fig, 1 large: 22mg
  • Orange, medium: 60mg
  • Rhubarb, raw, 1 cup: 100mg

If you'd like to include some true dairy foods in your diet, consider lactose-free and lactose-reduced foods or try lactase tablets or drops. Among dairy foods, it's hard to beat plain yogurt for its calcium content, which is more than 400mg in eight ounces.

Keep in mind that your body needs vitamin D to process calcium and protect bone health. Because D is hard to get naturally, it's a supplement that might be of benefit to you. If you're concerned about meeting these nutrient goals, talk to your doctor or a registered dietitian.

Image credit: iStock

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