10 Ways to Get Calcium if You're Lactose Intolerant

Calcium is important for the health of your bones, including the vertebrae in your spine. For people who need to limit or avoid dairy because of lactose intolerance, getting enough calcium can be a challenge. To reduce the risk for complications related to low bone density, such as osteoporosis and vertebral fractures, try these tips to get enough calcium without cheese or other dairy products.

Getting the right amount of calcium can help prevent osteoporosis, which is the most common cause of vertebral compression fractures. Read: Osteoporosis: The Primary Cause of Collapsed Vertebrae

1. Start the day with oatmeal.

One packet of unsweetened instant oatmeal makes for a convenient breakfast and contains over 100 mg of calcium,1 about 10% of the 1000 mg to 1200 mg daily recommended amount for adults.2 Read the label first and make sure there’s added nutrients but no added sugar. Eat it with almond milk or soy milk for extra calcium.

2. Get enough vitamin D.

Vitamin D helps the body absorb and store calcium. Without enough vitamin D, your body starts taking calcium from your bones, weakening them.

Eating eggs, fatty fish (such as salmon), and cereal with vitamin D added are all ways to get the recommended amount of vitamin D, which is 600 international units (IU) per day (or 800 IU for people over age 70).3

Spending time in the sunlight helps your body to absorb vitamin D naturally. Even 5 to 10 minutes of sun exposure per day can help increase your vitamin D intake.

See Calcium and Vitamin D Requirements


3. Have an orange.

An orange is one of the more calcium-rich fruits. One orange (150 g) has about 60 mg of calcium.1 Another option could be to drink a small glass of orange juice that has been fortified with calcium and vitamin D (but no added sugars).

See Food for Thought: Diet and Nutrition for a Healthy Back

4. Snack on nuts.

Nuts are a rich source of calcium. A half cup of unroasted almonds contains over 130 mg of calcium.1 Pistachios and walnuts have about 65 mg of calcium per half cup.1

Nuts make a good addition to meals, such as sprinkling on oatmeal in the morning. They can also be an easy on-the-go snack.

5. Try tofu.

A half cup of firm tofu (processed with calcium salt) has over 200 mg of calcium.2 This food option, made from soy milk, is low in calories but high in protein, and it can be used in a variety of dishes. Just remember to check the food label first as tofu calcium levels can vary greatly.

6. Have a side of beans.

A half cup of canned baked beans provides more than 40 mg of calcium.1 And a half cup of white beans has more than twice that much.1 Eat them on their own or add them to a low-sodium soup.

See Lifestyle and Diet Tips for Healthy Bones

7. Don’t forget leafy greens.

Eating leafy greens can help you meet the recommended daily intake of calcium. Some leafy greens with higher calcium contents include:

  • Kale
  • Bok choy
  • Turnip greens

You can also swap out iceberg lettuce for raw spinach (which has more calcium) on your sandwiches and in your salads.

8. Add seeds to your diet.

Seeds are dense with calcium. A single ounce of chia seeds has 179 mg of calcium,1 and they work well as an oatmeal topping. Poppy seeds have 127 mg of calcium per tablespoon.1 If you enjoy baking, look for ways to incorporate these seeds as ingredients.


9. Eat canned seafood.

Canned seafood is packed with calcium. A 1-oz portion of canned sardines or shrimp typically has more than 100 mg of calcium.1 A 1-oz portion of canned salmon has 62 mg of calcium,1 and it’s an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, too.

See Osteoporosis: 4 Proven Steps to Prevent Osteoporosis Fractures

10. Consider taking a calcium supplement.

If you can’t get enough calcium through diet alone, you may want to consider adding over-the-counter calcium supplements to your daily routine. Talk to your doctor or a pharmacist about calcium supplements they recommend for you.

See Calcium Is Needed for Strong Bones

Learn more:

Sources of Calcium in Food

Definitive Guide to Osteoporosis