Lactose intolerance: are Plant-based Milk rich in Calcium?

Would I get enough calcium if I switch to plant-based milk? What are the best choices for plant-based milk? Are there other sources of calcium that are not dairy products? Surely this might be your concern while trying to switch to a plant-based milk alternative especially with the increasing trends about dairy products and their conflicting health implications.

So many consumers nowadays opt for plant-based milk substitutes for either medical or lifestyle reasons. Obviously, milk in itself (plant or animal-based) plays an important role health-wise. The major medical reason for opting for plant-based milk alternatives is lactose intolerance and cow milk allergy.

According to research by the U.S. National Library of Medicine (2020), a reduction in the digestion of lactose has appeared in 65% of the world population.

It is very important to know the difference between lactose intolerance and milk allergy. Lactose intolerance totally involves digestive problems that arise from consuming milk or milk products and symptoms include abdominal cramps, bloating, and diarrhea while milk allergy is an immune response by the body to even the tiniest amount of milk or milk product (allergic reaction to the protein found in dairy milk). Unlike the symptoms of lactose intolerance which resolves after a few hours, symptoms of a milk allergy may be mild or very severe and require prompt medical treatment, these include hives, wheezing, shortness of breath, swelling of lips, tongue, or throat.

What Happens in Lactose Intolerance?

Lactose intolerance is simply the inability of the body’s digestive system to digest and utilize lactose, the main carbohydrate in dairy products. People with lactose intolerance don’t produce enough lactase; lactase is an enzyme that helps to digest lactose. When an individual has lactose intolerance, consumption of milk or its products comes with severe symptoms which include: bloating, diarrhea, cramps. Lactose intolerance is either caused by decreased production of lactase with age or celiac disease. One of the best management for lactose intolerance is to avoid dairy products completely.

Examples of dairy products that contain lactose include:

  1. Cow’s milk (all types)
  2. Goat’s milk
  3. Cheese (including hard and soft cheeses)
  4. Ice cream
  5. Yogurt
  6. Butter

Yes, some individuals can still tolerate some amount of dairy products even while with lactose intolerance. For example, some people can tolerate a little bit of milk in their tea (about 1-2 tablespoons) but not as much milk contained in a bowl of oats ( about more than 2 tablespoons)

According to some studies, lactose-intolerant individuals can tolerate about 12g of lactose (240ml of milk) spread out in their diet in a day.

How is Plant-based Milk Made?

Plant milk substitutes are made by dissolving the plant material in water and further disintegrating it to resemble cow’s milk. Then thermal treatments are done to improve suspension and microbial activities. The common steps in the production of all plant-based milk( almond, cashew, coconut, hazelnut, peanut, sesame, soy, tiger nut, oat, rice, hemp, and walnut milk) substitutes are wet milling, filtration, the addition of ingredients, sterilization, homogenization, aseptic packaging, and cold storage. The nutritional properties of the plant milk are totally based on the properties of the plant source used and if the milk is fortified with missing nutrients.

Whatever your reason is for choosing a plant-based milk alternative, make sure you choose the one that would suit your nutritional needs while you enjoy it with your beverages, shakes, smoothies.

What are the Best Options of Plant-based Milk?

One major concern about the choice of milk to use is the concern of the quantity of calcium and vitamin D contained in the milk. These nutrients are necessary for the prevention of osteoporosis (weak bones).

There is a variety of plant-based milk over the counter and your choice totally depends on the reason for switching. Since we’re more concerned with medical reasons, we’ll pick a few of the plant-based milk substitutes and scrutinize their nutrient profile in comparison with cow-based milk.

Nutritional Comparison

The following plant-based milk alternatives (oat, hazelnut, hemp, coconut, cashew, almond, soybean, rice, pea, flaxseed) would be placed side by side with cow’s milk to see if their nutrition profile matches with it. The one very important nutrient contained in cow’s milk is its calcium and vitamin levels. Cow’s milk is a major source of dietary calcium and vitamin D. it has been a major concern if other plant-based milk substitutes would also contain the same amount of calcium or at least something close to what’s contained in cow’s milk. This result shows some interesting contrast and similarities in selected plant-based milk alternatives when compared to 1 cup of cow’s milk (240ml)

. COW’S MILK 259 9g 10.99g 31.01g 300mg
. OAT MILK 130 4.01g 2.5g 19.01g 350mg
. COCONUT MILK 445 5g 57g 8g 38.4mg
. ALMOND MILK 29 1.01g 2.5g 0 451mg
. HEMP MILK 60 3g 4.51g 0 283mg
. SOY MILK 101 6.0g 3.5g 9.0g 451mg


Good Non-dairy Sources of Calcium

Although milk and its products contain quite an amount of calcium, you can still achieve your daily intake of calcium (1000mg-1200mg) in a day by taking other sources of calcium and incorporating them into your diet.

Some examples of non-dairy sources of calcium include:

  • Fortified tofu: 200 mg calcium in a 1/2 cup serving
  • Dried figs: 100 mg calcium in five figs
  • Kale: 100 mg calcium in a 1/2 cup serving
  • Brocolli: 100 mg calcium in a 1/2 cup serving
  • Soybeans: 100 mg calcium in a 1/2 cup serving


Whatever reason you have to use a plant-based milk substitute, make sure you read labels, get a Dietitian’s view and pick from the ones that provide sufficient nutrients of importance.


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