Calcium alternatives for lactose intolerant and fussy eaters
We all know how important calcium is for healthy teeth and bones, especially for growing children and adolescents. The best source of calcium comes from dairy products such as milk, cheese and yoghurt. But what if your child is lactose intolerant or doesn’t like the taste of dairy?
Why is it so important?
Calcium is an essential mineral that helps to build strong bones and teeth. It also plays a role in regulating heart and muscle function. Adequate calcium intake from a young age helps to strengthen the skeleton, preventing broken bones and problems later in life such as osteoporosis, a condition characterised by weak bones.
The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend 1½ – 3 ½ serves of dairy or alternative foods for children each day, depending on their age and gender. One serve of dairy is equivalent to 1 cup (250mL) of milk or 2 slices (40g) of cheese.
What is lactose intolerance?
Lactose intolerance is one of the most common food intolerances in Australia. It is the body’s impaired ability to digest lactose, a natural sugar found in cow’s milk and other dairy products. This may cause a range of gastrointestinal symptoms or feelings of discomfort when lactose-containing foods are eaten. Note that:
- the majority of lactose intolerant individuals can still tolerate small amounts of dairy with minimal symptoms; and
- cheese and yoghurt are often better tolerated than milk, especially if spread throughout the day.
Non-dairy sources of calcium
If your child is unable or unwilling to eat dairy foods, don’t worry! There are a number of non-dairy foods crammed with calcium. Here are our top five picks:
- Calcium-fortified milk alternatives – calcium-fortified soy, rice or other cereal drinks are a great option for lactose intolerant kids. Try to look for varieties with at least 100mg of calcium per 100mL.
- Canned sardines – you’ve heard of the phrase ‘packed like sardines’, but did you know that these little fish are also packed with calcium?! They are rich in omega-3 and vitamin D, which is important for bone health. Add them to a tasty pasta dish or eat them straight from the can.
- Canned salmon (with bones) – like sardines, bony fish such as canned salmon are a fantastic source of calcium and omega-3. Don’t be put off by the bones – these tiny bones hold the calcium and have been softened during the canning process, and can be easily hidden in a yummy salad or pasta meal.
- Firm Tofu – tofu is a versatile ingredient packed with both calcium and protein. It is also a vegetarian and vegan-friendly option.
- Green leafy vegetables – it may surprise you that leafy green veg such as broccoli, bok choy and kale are actually a great source of calcium. Even more reason to get your kids to eat their veggies!
If these foods still can’t please the fussy eaters, you can also try calcium-fortified breakfast cereals, nuts and seeds (e.g. almonds, brazil nuts), soybeans, dried figs or oranges, which all contain moderate amounts of calcium.