Dairy Alternatives in the Dairyland

UW-Stout Nutrition and Dietetics student offers tips for getting calcium in your diet, without the dairy

Rachel Robinson |

GOT MILK? For many Chippewa Vallians, getting enough calcium may seem like a struggle with a diary-free diet. Look no further than these easy ways to get more calcium in your diet!
GOT MILK? For many Chippewa Vallians, getting enough calcium may seem like a struggle with a diary-free diet. Look no further than these easy ways to get more calcium in your diet!

It’s no wonder why folks are pushed to drink lots of milk when “Drink your milk” and “Got Milk?” are popular dairy-drinkin’ slogans. Milk, and dairy products in general, are packed full of nutrients such as calcium, phosphorus, and vitamin D that our bodies need in order to build and maintain strong bones. Maintaining strong bones is important to prevent bone loss and subsequent fractures and osteoporosis as we age, and calcium is largely responsible for helping us maintain good bone health.

The Institute of Medicine recommends that the average adult aged 19-70 consume 1,000 mg of calcium a day; children aged 9-18 should aim for 1,300 mg of calcium a day and those 71 and older should aim for 1,200 mg a day. But what about those of us who don’t or can’t consume dairy products? Whether that’s because of an allergy, lactose intolerance, or following a vegan diet, getting enough calcium can seem like a challenge. Fear not! Here are four simple ways to get calcium in your diet without drinking dairy.  

1. Try a calcium-fortified non-dairy milk.

Non-dairy milk can be found next to regular cow’s milk in the grocery store. There are many non-dairy alternatives such as soy milk, rice milk, almond milk, cashew milk, oat milk, and even hemp milk. When picking a non-dairy milk, opt for one that has been fortified with calcium to still help you meet that daily recommendation. A cup of calcium-fortified soymilk will get you just as much calcium as a cup of cow’s milk. You can also make sure to pick an unsweetened option to cut back on that added sugar.  

2. Add some dark leafy greens to your meals.

Dark leafy greens such as kale, spinach, collard greens, turnip greens, and bok choy can be a great source of calcium. About 1.5-3 cups of dark leafy greens will get you as much calcium as a cup of milk. Some cooking ideas:

  • Add bok choy into your next batch of stir fry
  • Use a collard green leaf as part of a lunch wrap or stirred into soup or chili
  • Make a hearty kale salad topped with cooked quinoa, walnuts or almonds, sliced strawberries, and drizzled with olive oil (make sure to massage your kale to help make it less bitter) If you aren’t a huge fan of leafy greens, try adding some kale or spinach into a smoothie to get the added benefit without much of the taste.  

3. Serve up a canned salmon salad sandwich.

Not only is canned salmon high in calcium, it is also high in vitamin D (another nutrient for healthy bones) and omega-3 fats which are great for your heart and brain. 5 oz. of canned salmon will get you the same amount of calcium as a cup of milk. When buying canned salmon, try opting for fish packed in water to maximize the amount of omega-3 fats you get from the fish. Canned salmon on a sandwich or in a pasta salad are two great options for utilizing this food.  

4. Expand your protein options and try some tofu Tofu can usually be found in the produce section of most grocery stores and is not only a great vegan meat substitute but is also packed full of calcium. Roughly one-half cup of firm tofu will get you about as much calcium as a cup of milk. Overall, maintaining bone health and getting calcium in the diet can be easy for everyone. For more information on bone health and how to prevent osteoporosis visit www.nutrition.gov.  

Rachel Robinson is a graduate student at UW-Stout studying Human Nutrition and Dietetics and hopes to become a Registered Dietitian after graduation.