Learn more about lactose intolerance

Lactose Intolerant? Get Your Calcium Fix Without Consuming Dairy

Calcium is critical for building strong teeth and bones. But if you’re lactose intolerant, it may be hard for you to get the calcium your body needs.

A person is considered “lactose intolerant” when his or her body cannot easily digest lactose, a type of sugar found in milk and dairy products. When lactose moves through your body without being properly processed, it can cause a variety of uncomfortable side effects, including:

For some, this means that they cannot digest any dairy products without becoming ill, but others can handle small amounts without much trouble.

Why Is Calcium Important?

In addition to your bones and teeth, calcium also is good for your heart, and can even help lower blood pressure. If you are not getting enough calcium from your diet, your body will begin to “steal” what it needs from your heart, blood, and bones, causing problems like osteoporosis, which can then lead to broken bones and injury.

So, if you are lactose intolerant, it is important to find other ways of getting enough calcium to support your diet.

A Non-Dairy Diet

While there is no cure for lactose intolerance, many non-dairy options can help add calcium to your diet. You can get extra calcium from certain fruits and vegetables, including:

In addition to veggies, eating soft-boned fish is another great way to get the calcium and vitamin D your body needs. Salmon, sardines, tuna, and rainbow trout are all great options.

» Considering adding more fish to your diet? Learn about canned fish options.

Dairy Alternatives

Many stores sell lactose-free or lactose-reduced dairy products. Just like regular milk, these dairy alternatives are rich in calcium and vitamin D. Some options include almond, soy, coconut, and rice milk. These items can be a substitute for a daily glass of milk or creamer in your coffee. They even work well as milk substitutes for cooking and baking.

If you love cheese, try snacking on soy cheese or a “hard” cheese, which contain less lactose than their softer counterparts.

You also can take over-the-counter lactase to help your body better digest dairy. These products come in the form of pills or liquids, and you typically take them before consuming dairy. All products and brands are different, so be sure to find what works best for you.

Most people with a lactose intolerance learn what to avoid and what they can eat over time. If you are concerned about the amount of calcium in your diet, talk to your doctor or dietitian.

Learn more by visiting the UPMC Digestive Disorders Center website.