Dairy Free Diet - Are You Getting Enough Calcium?

Many people are unable to tolerate milk and milk products due to lactose intolerance or milk protein allergy. In both cases dairy products must be removed from the diet.

Lactose intolerance is the inability to digest lactose (the sugar in milk), due to the absence of the enzyme lactase. It is more common in Asian and African people than in Europeans. Consuming dairy products causes gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea, bloating, diarrhoea, cramping and flatulence. The symptoms usually appear within 1-2 hours and resolve after 2-3 days after ceasing dairy products.

Milk protein allergy is an allergic reaction to one of the proteins in milk, casein or whey. Symptoms include eczema or hives, respiratory symptoms such as runny nose, and gastrointestinal symptoms such as colic, vomiting and diarrhoea.

Different people react differently to dairy products. Some will have to exclude all forms of dairy, even minute amounts of additives in processed food (see list below). Others will be able to tolerate these small amounts, but can not drink milk or eat ice cream. If you are excluding dairy products from your diet, it is best to follow the dairy free diet strictly for 3-4 weeks and then gradually add small amounts of dairy products back in.

There are many recipes books available in the book stores and libraries specifically for people following dairy free diets.

Foods to avoid

Dairy products: Cows milk, yoghurt, ice cream, cream, sour cream, butter, cheese, chocolate.

Food labels may use the following words: milk solids, whey, curds, skim milk powder, lactalbumin, lactose, lactoserum, casein, caseinate.

Always ask before taking any medication or vitamins as some of these products use fillers or dispersing agents that may include lactose and other milk products.

Foods to eat

All fruit, vegetables, legumes, grains, nuts and seeds, fish, seafood, eggs and meat, as long as these foods are in their natural form. When any of these foods are processed, you will need to carefully read the label to ensure that there are none of the dairy products given in the list above. Many of the biscuits and snacks available in the supermarkets contain dairy products. There are however many brands or treats that are dairy free. Try Organ, Silly Yaks, Naturally Good and other brands that are available in health food stores and increasingly in the larger supermarkets.

Alternatives to dairy products: soy milk, soy cheese, soy ice cream and soy yoghurt, almond milk (Eco Mil), oat milk (Pure Harvest), rice milk (Pure Harvest).

Dairy products are the easiest way to obtain calcium from your diet. The dairy alternatives given above may be used as dairy replacements in cooking and to eat by themselves, however, with the exception of soy milk, they will not give you the calcium that dairy products provide. You will therefore need to obtain your daily calcium (800-1200mg) from other sources. Over the page is a list of calcium rich foods.

Calcium Rich Foods

Food Serving size Calcium
Soy milk 1 cup 350mg
Tofu, calcium set ½ cup 250mg
Chinese cabbage ½ cup, cooked 250mg
Sardines 60g tinned with bones 240mg
Rhubarb ½ cup cooked 175mg
Tahini 2 tbsp 160mg
Salmon 60g tinned with bones 120mg
Spinach ½ cup cooked 100mg
Chickpeas 1 cup 100mg
Bok choy ½ cup, cooked 80mg
Almonds 25 nuts 70mg
Anchovies 30g tinned with bones 65mg
Chia 10g 60mg
Kale ½ cup, cooked 60mg
Dried figs 4 figs (30g) 50mg
Brazil nuts 5 nuts 40mg
Broccoli ½ cup, cooked 35mg
Carob flour 1 tbsp (6g) 20mg

Example of a daily menu for consuming 1000mg Calcium


Muesli with 25 almonds, 5 brazil nuts and 10g chia added (170mg)

Served with ½ cup soy milk (175mg)


Sandwich with 60g tinned salmon and salad (120mg)


¼ cup tofu, stir fried with ¼ cup broccoli, ¼ cup bok choy and ¼ cup chinese cabbage (320mg)


Bliss balls (2 tbsp tahini, 1 tbsp honey, 1 tbsp chopped pepitas, 1 tsp carob) (180mg)

4 Dried figs (50mg)

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