Most people know that calcium is essential for bone strength, but you may not know that your heart, muscles and nervous system also need calcium for proper functioning. Those essential functions require calcium supply on a second-to-second basis and your body has a very clever way of making sure that the calcium supply doesn’t run out… it removes calcium from the stores in your bones. While this is clever, there is a downside. If you don’t eat enough calcium through your diet, you won’t be able to replenish the calcium stores in your bones.
For people who can eat whichever foods they like, getting enough calcium isn’t very difficult. But when your diet restricts lactose, the FODMAP that’s found in calcium-rich dairy products, you need to make careful choices to make sure that your diet still has enough calcium. The good news is that there are plenty of low FODMAP calcium-rich foods, including options that are also dairy-free. So here’s some practical tips to make sure you get enough calcium on a low FODMAP diet.
Tip 1: First make sure you know how much calcium you need based on your age and gender and how that translates to food choices.
Calcium requirements depend on age and gender, as follows:
- Adult men and women (18+ years): 1000 mg calcium per day.
- Women over 50 years and men over 70 years: 1300 mg calcium per day.
- Teenagers: 1300 mg calcium per day.
- Children require less calcium than adults, but still require daily intake.
But because you’re not a human calculator, it’s much easier to count calcium intake in terms of dairy serves or non-dairy alternatives. That’s how it’s done in the Australian Dietary Guidelines, where 1 serving of dairy or non-dairy equivalent provides you with approximately 300 mg of calcium.
Using dairy (or non-dairy alternative) servings as the measure, the recommend intake based on age and gender is as follows:
- Adult men and women (18+ years): 2 and 1/2 serves.
- Women over 50 years and men over 70 years: 3 and 1/2 serves to 4 serves.
- Teenagers (12-18 years): 3 and 1/2 serves.
- Children: 1 and 1/2 to 3 serves, depending on age (the amount needed increases with age).
Now if you enjoy crunching numbers, you may have worked out that that 2 and 1/2 serves of dairy (for the average adult) only supplies 750 mg of calcium and not the 1000 mg that’s recommended. This is because while dairy products are the biggest supplier of dietary calcium, you do get small amounts of calcium from other foods that you eat throughout the day, which together provides you with the remaining amount of calcium that you need. The theory goes that as you eat the right amount of serves of the dairy or non-dairy alternatives, along with a healthy and balanced diet, then you should achieve the rest of your calcium needs.
It’s also important to understand that these serving recommendations are ‘average daily serves’. This means that if you have 2 serves today and 3 serves tomorrow, you would have an average daily intake of 2 and 1/2 serves over both days.
Tip 2: Know what a serve of low FODMAP lactose-free dairy looks like.
Because a low FODMAP diet requires restricting lactose intake, only lactose-free or low lactose dairy products are suitable on a low FODMAP diet. If you’ve already done FODMAP reintroductions and know that you can tolerate lactose, then you can choose regular dairy products instead.
One serving of low FODMAP dairy equals:
- 250ml (1 cup) of lactose-free milk.
- 200g (3/4 cup) of lactose-free yoghurt. Note: you’ll need to make sure that the yoghurt doesn’t have any other FODMAPs added, e.g. inulin or high FODMAP fruits.
- 40g (2 slices) of hard cheese (e.g. cheddar, Swiss cheese, etc.). Note: hard cheeses are naturally low in lactose so you don’t need to choose lactose-free varieties.
Other low FODMAP dairy that provide calcium, although less than a full serve, include:
- 40g ricotta, equals 1/3 of a dairy serve in terms of calcium.
- 36g cottage cheese, equals 1/9 of a dairy serve in terms of calcium.
Note: Soft cheeses naturally have less calcium than hard cheeses, which is you need to eat more of a soft cheese to get the same amount of calcium. However, soft cheeses are higher in lactose than hard cheeses, so you need to limit how much you eat, even though it means you’ll get less calcium.
Low FODMAP dairy that provide almost no calcium and don’t count as a dairy serving.
While cream and ice cream are made from milk, they contain much less of the milk solids than other products and so are lower in calcium. So even though low FODMAP ice creams and cream do exist, and can be enjoyed occasionally, they shouldn’t be considered as a means to obtaining your calcium requirements.
Tip 3: Know what a serve of low FODMAP non-dairy alternative looks like (especially if you can’t tolerate dairy or don’t enjoy lactose-free dairy).
One serving of low FODMAP non-dairy alternative equals:
- 250ml (1 cup) of low FODMAP non-dairy milk alternative that’s been fortified with calcium so that it contains at least 100mg calcium per 100ml. The best choices are almond milk, rice milk and soy protein milk (but don’t use soy milk made with whole soybeans).
- 200g of calcium-fortified soy yoghurt, provided that it is made from soy protein (not whole soy beans) and does not contain other high FODMAP ingredients such as inulin.
Note: Home-made non-dairy alternatives or non-fortified organic varieties don’t count because they aren’t fortified with calcium.
Click here for more information about choosing a suitable low FODMAP non-dairy milk alternative. You’ll also find tips for making the non-dairy milk taste better.
Low FODMAP non-dairy alternatives that don’t count as a dairy serving.
- Coconut yoghurts, or yoghurts made from other non-dairy alternatives, normally aren’t fortified with calcium, therefore they don’t count as a ‘dairy’ serve.
- Soy cheeses, while low in FODMAPs, don’t contain sufficient calcium to be included as a ‘dairy’ serve.
Tip 4: Know the other low FODMAP foods you can eat instead of lactose-free dairy or non-dairy alternatives.
Other low FODMAP foods that are equivalent to a serving of dairy include:
- 100g firm tofu, equals 1 dairy serve in terms of calcium.
- 60g canned sardines, equals 1 dairy serve in terms of calcium.
- 100g canned pink salmon with edible bones, equals 1 dairy serve in terms of calcium.
Note: With the canned fish, you must eat the bones or you won’t get the calcium. To ensure they are low FODMAP, choose unflavoured varieties.
Other low FODMAP foods that provide calcium, although less than a full serve, include:
- 115g prawns (before cooking), equals 1/2 of a dairy serve in terms of calcium.
- 115g snapper (before cooking), equals 1/2 of a dairy serve in terms of calcium.
- 100g tempeh, equals 1/4 of a dairy serve in terms of calcium.
Other low FODMAP foods that can boost calcium
- Vegetables: Asian greens (bok choy, choy sum, etc.), other leafy greens (rocket, spinach, kale, silverbeet), broccoli, and fresh green herbs (especially parsley). Note: All of these vegetables are low FODMAP, although some have limited portion sizes so check your food lists for more information.
- Seeds: linseed (flaxseed), chia seeds and tahini have some calcium, but be careful of portion sizes.
- Nuts: almonds do contain calcium, but you can only eat 10 almonds in a low FODMAP serve. On the other hand, a 40g low FODMAP serve of Brazil nuts has twice the amount of calcium.
- Grains: while no grains are particularly outstanding for calcium, regular consumption will contribute to your calcium needs.
Putting these tips into practice to make sure you get enough calcium on a low FODMAP diet.
- Work out how many ‘dairy’ serves you need each day (Tip 1).
- Make sure you know how much you need to eat or drink of each food/beverage to get 1 serve, based on the types of foods that you tolerate and enjoy eating. You can mix and match from the lactose-free (or low lactose) dairy products (Tip 2), the non-dairy alternatives (Tip 3), and the low FODMAP foods that are very rich in calcium (Tip 4), until you reach your average daily calcium needs.
- Plan your day so that you will eat enough calcium-rich foods throughout your meals. Here’s a simple recipe that’s an easy way to boost your calcium intake: Strawberry Chocolate Milk.
- Try to eat some of the other low FODMAP foods that can boost calcium (Tip 4) within your diet to help boost your calcium intake, just in case you’re a little low on your intake of the more calcium-rich foods.