5 Ways to Have a Balanced Diet Without Dairy

Get Enough of These Nutrients

Milk alternatives for milk allergy
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Milk often fills an important nutritional niche, especially in lactovegetarian families (families that don't eat meat but do consume dairy products). But many people don't drink milk because of milk allergy, food sensitivities, or personal preference. That's why it's important to know how to make sure your diet is healthy without including milk and other milk-based dairy products, such as yogurt and cheese.

You probably know the upside of dairy: milk is rich in protein, vitamins, and minerals, and many toddlers will drink milk even when they're not enthusiastic about solid foods. But in someone who's allergic to milk, the downside risks of a bad allergic reaction obviously far outweigh milk's benefits.

It's common to worry about staying healthy and maintaining adequate nutrition when you remove dairy products from your diet. Fortunately, though, all the beneficial components of milk are found in a variety of common foods. Read on to learn which nutrients you'll need to replace in order to balance your milk-free diet.



Photo: Alexandra Shytsman 

Adults and teens require fifty to sixty grams of protein daily. Children's needs range from nine to 34 grams, depending on age. Milk often provides a chunk of people's daily needs.

Still, you're probably already getting more protein than you require, since people who eat meat even infrequently are likely to far exceed their minimum protein needs. Six ounces of lean ground beef includes over 45 grams of protein. You don't need dairy products to give you enough protein. It's not difficult for vegetarians to get enough, either. Great vegetarian sources of protein include:

  • tofu (10 grams per serving);
  • legumes like kidney beans, chickpeas, or nuts (seven to nine grams per serving);
  • eggs (six grams per egg);
  • whole grains (quinoa has thirteen grams per serving; wheat and oats have six each)



Photo: Alexandra Shytsman

Calcium is a vital mineral for building bone mass, and milk is a rich source of this mineral. Adult women have the highest calcium needs, at 1,000 to 1,500 mg per day, while children require between 500 and 1,300 mg, depending on their ages.

There are three ways to replace calcium from dairy products in your diet:

  1. Eat foods that have been supplemented with calcium, such as orange juice, cranberry juice, breakfast cereals, and soy milk. Some almond milk brands—notably, Silk Almond Milk—also have added calcium.
  2. Eat nondairy foods that are especially high in calcium. Some good sources are kale, collard greens, tofu, shellfish, salmon, legumes, and amaranth.
  3. Take calcium supplements. If you choose this option, make sure to check with your doctor about the best supplements available for you.

Vitamin D


Photo: Alexandra Shytsman

Calcium may be the best-known nutrient in milk, but it isn't the only one. Milk also includes vitamin D, which is used in the body to help absorb dietary calcium. Therefore, when you omit milk and dairy from your diet, you also need to be mindful of your vitamin D intake.

Vitamin D deficiency can cause serious disorders of the bones like rickets and osteomalacia. These are very rare disorders, however, since vitamin D can be produced naturally by the body when you expose your skin to the sun. Ten to 15 minutes per day of direct sunlight in most locations is sufficient to prevent vitamin D deficiency, especially in the summer.

Good nondairy dietary sources of vitamin D include eggs, fish, oysters, fortified cereals, and cod liver oil.


roasted sweet potatoes in bowl
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Riboflavin, or vitamin B2, is one of the B-complex of vitamins vital for processing carbohydrates in the body. It has recently become popular as a treatment for migraine headaches, as it has been clinically shown to reduce their frequency.

While riboflavin is available in supplement form, it is not particularly difficult to get vitamin B2 from an otherwise well-balanced diet. The RDI (recommended daily intake) for riboflavin is 1.3mg for adult men and 1.1mg for adult women (children and adolescents need less). Leafy greens, sweet potatoes, whole grains, and meat are good sources. Some cereals and breads are enriched with riboflavin as well.


salmon cooking in pan
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Milk is among the richest dietary sources of phosphorus, a mineral that helps regulate cell function in the body. It is a major component of bones and teeth.

Meat eaters should easily get adequate phosphorus in the diet without dairy. Fatty fish, in particular, are an efficient way to meet your phosphorus needs. Vegetarians' best options for phosphorus are legumes, which are high in phosphorus but not absorbed as easily in the body as the phosphorus found in animal products. Another good source is bread, especially if the bread has been leavened with yeast.

A Word from Verywell

It may seem complicated to keep track of all these nutrients you need when you don't consume milk products, but as you can see, you get enough for most of them without too much effort.

If you or your child avoids milk due to an allergy or intolerance and you're concerned about nutrition, talk to your doctor about getting a referral to a dietitian who's knowledgeable about allergy and diet issues. That person can help you craft your diet so that you're not missing out on anything important.

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