I’ve written previously about how to get enough calcium on low FODMAP diet. But I’m often asked about how to get enough calcium on a low FODMAP diet if you also don’t eat dairy. While a low FODMAP diet doesn’t need to be dairy-free, there are several reasons why you may choose to follow a dairy-free low FODMAP diet:
- You can’t tolerate dairy protein or have an allergy to dairy
- You really don’t like the taste of dairy
- You’re philosophically opposed to eating dairy products (e.g. vegans)
I fit into the first category. Once upon a time I used to almost live on dairy. Milk, cheese, yoghurt, ice cream. All the dairy. But as I’ve sorted out my food intolerances, I’ve had to accept that my body functions better without any dairy.
But needing to restrict both dairy and FODMAPs makes it quite challenging to get enough calcium each day. It’s taken me a few years of juggling to get this right, but here’s how I get my calcium on a dairy-free low FODMAP diet.
The first thing I set out to do was get used to non-dairy alternatives
Removing dairy from my diet and switching to non-dairy alternatives wasn’t easy for me. I truly loved dairy, but none of the alternatives taste remotely like dairy. To say that I find non-dairy alternatives to be a disappointment is an understatement. That said, I’ve come to accept that they must have a place in my diet. That’s because I’d rather experience a disappointing taste than a constant belly ache from real milk.
Adapting hasn’t been easy though. I originally started with rice milk, even before I went low FODMAP. I tried soy milk around that time but quickly discovered that my belly didn’t like it at all. In hindsight, that’s probably because it was made from whole soybeans, making it high FODMAP.
Since I was already dairy-free before going low FODMAP, I was initially afraid of having additional restrictions. But at that point, rice milk was considered safe. A few months later, Monash tested rice milk and declared it high FODMAP. So I stopped drinking it and switched to almond milk, which I found even more disappointing for taste, but a better fit for my belly. Several months after that, Monash re-tested rice milk and reported that 200ml serves were low FODMAP, which was more consistent with the reports from FODMAP Friendly that 250ml serves were okay. But by then, I was used to almond milk so I stuck with it.
Still, the flavour of almond milk continued to disappoint. So I became very adept at covering the flavour with other ingredients to make non-dairy milk taste better. You can see more examples of this in my porridge recipes where I add stronger flavours to cover the milk. Also in this Strawberry Chocolate Milk, this Low FODMAP Green Smoothie and these cold milky drinks.
While I never completely removed the flavour problem, I learned to tolerate the almond milk.
But why should I force myself to use non-dairy alternatives, especially if I don’t like them?
This is a great question, because my normal philosophy with food is that if you don’t like something, don’t eat it. This approach works in most cases because there’s usually other options that can provide the same benefits. For instance, if you don’t like turkey, eat chicken. If you don’t like sweet potato, eat pumpkin. If you don’t like grapes, eat rockmelon.
But non-dairy alternatives were created to replace dairy. They’re used to replace milk as a drink, but also for replacing milk in cooking and baking. But to make them a true dairy replacement, non-dairy milks need to be fortified with calcium. Otherwise they’re very low in calcium and are little more than a nut- or grain-infused water.
The fact is that there’s very few other foods that provide similar amounts of calcium to dairy products. So calcium-fortified non-dairy alternatives are an essential switch if you can’t (or don’t want to) eat dairy products. While you will sometimes read on the internet that other foods are a source of calcium, it’s important to understand that you’d have to eat ridiculously massive serves of those foods to get a similar amount to what you find in cow’s milk.
Read this for more information about your calcium needs and the low FODMAP foods that can provide this calcium.
My strategy for getting enough calcium without dairy or FODMAPs
First off, let’s look at my calcium needs and preferred source
As a 41-year old woman, I need to consume an average of 2 and 1/2 serves of dairy or fortified non-dairy alternatives each day. Based on my preference of using unsweetened calcium-fortified almond milk as my primary source, I would need to drink 2 and 1/2 cups each day. That calculation assumes that I use an almond milk containing 300mg of calcium per 250ml – the same amount as in cow’s milk. Thankfully, there are 2 good choices in Australia with this amount of calcium: Vitasoy Unsweetened Almond Milk and So Good Unsweetened Almond Milk.
But while that’s all well and good, I don’t drink that much almond milk every single day. Since I will only drink almond milk when I can cover the flavour, there are limited times during the day that I use it.
How I get my calcium through almond milk each day
Breakfast: On most days, I eat porridge for breakfast (which I love), using 1/3 cup of rolled oats and 1 cup of almond milk. Although on some days when I’m not as hungry, or if I’m using energy-dense toppings, I have 1/4 cup of rolled oats and 3/4 cup of almond milk. And sometimes I make a ‘custard porridge’, which uses 1/3 cup of rolled oats and 1 and 1/3 cups of almond milk, plus an egg added at the end to make the leftover milk custardy. I know this sounds weird, but trust me, it’s yum! This means that I usually get 1 cup of almond milk at breakfast time, but it can vary from 3/4 cup to 1 and 1/3 cups.
Evening: On most days, except for the seriously hot ones, I drink a mug of hot cocoa before bed. I heat a mug of almond milk in the microwave, mix in 1 tsp of cocoa and 1 tsp of sugar, then add some flavour coverage with peppermint essence, ground cinnamon, mixed spice or vanilla essence. The amount of almond milk I have depends on the size of the mug I use, but it’s between 250ml to 320ml. This means I get between 1 cup or 1 and 1/4 cups at night, but I’m more likely to choose a bigger mug if I had less almond milk at breakfast time.
Total almond milk per day: On most days, I get around 2 cups or 2 and 1/4 cups per day, sometimes a little more. But this isn’t quite enough for me to meet my average calcium needs of 2 and 1/2 serves of ‘dairy’ per day.
How I supplement my calcium intake
Since I’m not missing out on a huge amount of calcium on most days, I don’t need to go overboard to get the remaining amounts. But I do make some deliberate choices to ensure that I supplement my calcium intake and achieve the average intake I need. I do this using one of the following food or drink choices every few days:
- I eat canned salmon with edible bones, where 1 serve of salmon is equivalent to a glass of milk. I normally make Dill and Chive Salmon Patties and store them in the freezer for easy access at lunch time.
- I make a cold milky drink during the day using a big glass that holds about 1 and 1/4 cups.
- I make a smoothie using almond milk, using between 1 cup to 1 and 1/4 cups at a time. Here’s a green smoothie recipe that I use.
- I very occasionally eat firm tofu, since 100g of firm tofu is equivalent to 1 cup of milk. But my belly doesn’t like soy very much, so I don’t eat this often.
- I eat leafy green vegetables and as many nuts and seeds as my belly can handle, because these are good ways to add little bits of calcium to top up the rest. They certainly don’t replace a serving of dairy, but they’re handy for little boosts here and there. I recommend Silverbeet with Currants and Pine Nuts for calcium-rich greens that taste good.
How my calcium intake looks, on balance
While I may not get all of my calcium needs every single day, so long as it averages out over time, that’s fine. That’s how it works with nutrition… it’s the average that matters.
So as long as I get 2 cups of calcium-fortified almond milk each day, I know that I can add in another glass of ‘milk’, a smoothie, salmon patties or firm tofu. Then with that, I’ll be averaging out my calcium needs.
So it is definitely possible to get enough calcium on a dairy-free low FODMAP diet. But it takes effort and commitment to choosing calcium-rich non-dairy alternatives and other calcium-rich foods.
If you also follow a dairy-free low FODMAP diet and don’t think you’re meeting your calcium needs, then perhaps it’s time to talk to a nutrition professional to come up with a personalised strategy for you. Click here to find out how I can help you to develop an approach that works for you.