Milk, Lactose Intolerance and Calcium Sources

Most often when people mention calcium they directly think of milk. But is milk the best source of calcium? What are your daily calcium requirements anyway? And what if you are lactose intolerant?

Calcium is a mineral with different functions in the body. Even though formation and maintenance of bones and teeth is the most important, it is not the only one. Other functions include blood clotting, muscle contraction, nerve transmission and regulation of cardiac rhythms. If calcium is not obtained from the diet or supplements, it is “removed” from the bones. If the rate at which calcium is removed is higher than the rate at which it is deposited, osteoporosis, characterized by weakening of the bones and the loss of bone density, occurs.

Daily Calcium Requirements

Age Daily calcium requirement
4 to 8 1000 mg
9 to 18 1300 mg
19 to 50 1000 mg
50+ 1000 mg for males/ 1200 mg for females
pregnant or lactating women 18+ 1000 mg

One cup of cow’s milk provides around 300 mg of calcium. It is preferable to consume skimmed or low-fat milk as the full-fat variety contains saturated fats and extra calories. But milk and dairy products are not the only sources of calcium. If you are on a vegan diet, don’t like milk or are lactose intolerant, there are other options for you out there besides supplements. But first what is lactose intolerance and what can you do about it?

Lactose is the sugar found in milk. People who are lactose intolerant are unable to digest lactose and this causes them bloating, gas, cramps and diarrhea. The degree of intolerance differs between people. Some can tolerate yogurt and certain cheeses as they contain very low levels of lactose. Others cannot tolerate all sources of dairy from milk to cream, yogurt, cheeses and ice cream. It’s all about trial-and-error at the beginning to determine the person’s level of tolerability. Some people may need to abide by a low- lactose diet, others may need to follow a strict lactose-free diet. Cynthia, a fellow dietitian and blogger, from Strawberry Blu shared a list of foods to watch out for if you are lactose intolerant as well as a step-by-step process to make the Lebanese labneh at home. Yum :)

If you still want to consume milk, there are certain brands that are lactose-free or lactose-reduced. You can also take lactase (the enzyme that digests lactose) pills before consuming dairy.

Soy, almond, and rice milk can all be consumed as an alternative if they are calcium and  vitamin D enriched. As we all know, calcium needs vitamin D to be better absorbed by the body. So check the labels to see the amounts they provide and if they are comparable to those in cow’s milk. Another thing to look out for on the label is vitamin B12 fortification (especially if you are vegan) and if the calcium added is in the form of tricalcium phosphate or calcium carbonate. Tricalcium phosphate is not as readily absorbed.

As mentioned earlier, dairy products are not your only option for calcium. There are so many healthy varieties that are nutritious and can provide your daily requirements of the mineral. What are these sources?

  1. Dark green vegetables: Broccoli, spinach, bok choy, kale, mustard greens and Swiss chard contain a very good amount of calcium. However, as high as this amount is on paper, it is not all readily absorbed by the body. For instance, one cup of raw spinach or half cup cooked has around 115 mg of calcium but only a small fraction is absorbed by the body as it contains high amounts of oxalate . Oxalic acid or oxalate is a compound that binds to calcium and inhibits its absorption. Even though green vegetables should not be your only source of calcium, they provide many more benefits including vitamins, other minerals, fiber and antioxidants and should be part of your daily diet.
  2. Sesame seeds: One tablespoon of sesame seeds provides 88 mg of calcium and around 50 calories. Sprinkle some in your salads and stir fries. Another option would be consuming tahini or sesame paste in dishes such as hummus, baba ghannouj or baked fish with spicy sesame sauce. However, you must be careful with the amounts as tahini is quite calorific.
  3. Herbs: Surprised to see herbs in here? Apart from the great flavors they add to dishes, fresh and dried herbs provide a packful of health benefits including being a good source of calcium. Out of the most potent are dried basil, dried oregano and dried thyme where each tablespoon contains  101 mg, 86 mg and 81 mg respectively.
  4. Sardines: So this is not a vegan option but sardines are a very important source of calcium. Each 3-ounce serving with bones provides around 350 mg of calcium which is slightly more than the amount provided by one cup of milk. Sardines are also a good source of omega-3 fatty acids.
  5. Nuts:  Almonds, chestnuts and walnuts are all good sources of calcium where a 1/4 cup serving provides 165 mg, 150 mg and 70 mg respectively.
  6. Blackstrap molasses: One tablespoon of blackstrap molasses provides 172 mg of calcium and around 50 calories.

Don’t let lactose intolerance or personal dietary preferences compromise your nutrient intake and health. Vary your diet and get your daily requirements of calcium from the different food sources.

 As I was about to finish writing this post, I was surprised and humbled that I was nominated to receive the Versatile Blogger Award by Miranti from The High Heel Gourmet. If you aren’t already following Miranti’s wonderful blog, I urge you to check it out. The nomination comes with certain requirements that I will share with you soon. But what a lovely thought to go to bed to! Thank you!

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4 thoughts on “Milk, Lactose Intolerance and Calcium Sources

  1. Pingback: Sunday Roundup- February 24 | Health 'n' Horizons

  2. Pingback: Osteoporosis Awareness and Prevention Month | Health and Horizons

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