Milk-Free Sources of Calcium

How to Meet Calcium Needs When You Can't Eat Dairy

Bok Choy is a good option for calcium. Flickr/Jamonation

Milk allergy means dairy-free, but dairy contains some of the highest sources of calcium for growing bodies and bones.

While most (80%) children will outgrow a milk allergy by the age of 5, most milk allergies will resolve by adolescence. Meanwhile, during this time of growth and development, where do kids and teens manage to get enough calcium? And if you are an adult, how do you maintain adequate calcium intake?

If you are wondering why calcium is so important, it’s helpful to understand bone development in childhood. Bones develop at a rapid pace during childhood and adolescence and this time frame is known as the peak bone growth phase of life.

Essentially, like a bank, calcium from the food we eat is deposited into bone, helping them grow and strengthen. During the second and third decades, this process is at its greatest, something called peak bone growth. After young adulthood is reached, bone accumulation stops and the name of the game is bone preservation.

Bone density is preserved when enough calcium (and vitamin D) is consumed daily. When bone growth is completed, the bone bank withdrawal system kicks in. If low amounts of calcium are consumed, the bone bank offers up calcium for the normal functioning of other tissues, especially the heart and muscles. Therefore, it is important to build bones when you can, during middle childhood and adolescence, and maintain the integrity of bone in adulthood, partly through adequate consumption of calcium-containing foods.

Here is the Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) for calcium among all age groups, according to the Institute of Medicine (IOM):

  • 1-3 years: 700 milligrams (mg) calcium per day
  • 4-8 years: 1,000 mg calcium per day
  • 9-13 years: 1,300 mg calcium per day
  • 14-18 years: 1,300 mg calcium per day
  • 19-50 years: 1,000 mg calcium per day
  • 51-70 year old males: 1,000 mg calcium per day
  • 51-70 year old females: 1,200 mg calcium per day
  • >70 years old: 1,200 mg calcium per day

When you have a food allergy to milk, the consistent and adequate intake of calcium can be compromised, and this can be a real concern during those peak bone-building years. In fact, girls from ages 9-18 years are at particular risk for poor bone health, as intake data consistently shows this age group is missing out on enough calcium in the diet. Girls with food allergy to milk are at an even higher risk.

Milk substitutes can be a source of calcium, but not all milk substitutes are created equally. Some, like soy milk, will have similar calcium amounts per cup as cow’s milk (about 300 mg per cup), while others may vary in their calcium load. Plus, calcium is added to alternative milks and may come out of solution. In other words, the calcium may settle to the bottom of the milk container. Be sure to shake your alternative milk prior to drinking, and read the ingredient label to get the most calcium per cup you can find in your dairy-free alternative.

Other non-dairy foods contain calcium, and many believe it's easy to match calcium requirements on these foods alone.

You can, as there are certainly many foods to choose from, but you’ll be eating quite a bit of some foods. And, remember, if you are dealing with a child with a milk allergy, you may be hard-pressed to get him to eat some of these non-dairy calcium-rich foods.

Here are a list of calcium-containing non-dairy foods and the amount you’ll need to eat to match the calcium content of an 8-ounce glass of cow's milk.

How Much Do I Eat to Match the Calcium in Cow’s Milk?


  Amount to Equal 300 mg calcium

Calcium-fortified orange juice

  1 cup

Sardines, canned in oil

  3 ounces

Tofu, firm, made with calcium sulfate

  ½ cup

Salmon, canned

  3 ounces

Tofu, soft, made with calcium sulfate

  1 cup

Fresh turnip greens

  1 ½ cups

Fresh kale

  1 ½ cups

Bok Choy

  4 cups

White bread

  4 slices


  7 ½ cups


  4 cups


  2 ½ cups

Pinto beans, canned

  3 cups

Sesame seeds

  4 tablespoons

Blackstrap molasses

  2 tablespoons

If you're worried that your milk-allergic child (or yourself!) may not be getting adequate calcium from food, check with a nutrition professional who can assist with a meal plan that can cover the unique needs of you or your child. If you have a difficult time matching the daily calcium requirements with milk-free food options, consider talking with your allergist or doctor about a calcium supplement. Multivitamins and mineral supplements generally do not contain significant amounts of calcium, so a stand-alone calcium supplement or a calcium + vitamin D chew may be needed.


Sicherer, S. Food Allergies: A Complete Guide for Eating When Your Life Depends on It

2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans

USDA Nutrient Database