child looking at milk

Dairy-Free Milk Provides Calcium for Children with Milk Allergies

Fortification of dairy alternatives with calcium is essential, especially when dairy milk is not an option in early life. Learn about some of the issues associated with low calcium intake and ingredient solutions to boost your dairy alternative.  


  • A milk allergy and lactose intolerance are two different issues.
  • Calcium is crucial for bone growth and long-term health.
  • There are many dairy-free options in the market to ensure everyone can get the calcium and nutrients they need. 

In the US, milk allergies are the most common allergies among children, estimating that between 2 and 3% of children under the age of 3 are allergic to milk, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.1 While most outgrow their allergy by age 4, some may not, and it may have an impact on their bone health. A study released in 2016 found that 6% of children with an allergy to cow's milk had a lower bone mineral density in their lumbar spine than those that consumed milk. Calcium intake was significantly lower in those with a milk allergy and few subjects supplemented their diet with calcium and vitamin D, two important nutrients for children obtained from milk.

What is a milk allergy?

Not to be confused with lactose intolerance, the inability for the enzyme lactase to break down sufficient lactose into monosaccharides, a milk allergy is an immunological hypersensitivity to the proteins, whey and casein, in milk. This can elicit a mild to severe adverse reaction when even the slightest bit of food is ingested, including life-threatening anaphylactic shock.3 

Bone Health in Adolescence

The youth years are an extremely important time for bone development. In adolescents, growing bone is in the modeling stage, sculpted through the construction of new bone and removal of older bone.  Calcium, being the most abundant mineral in the human body, is the key mineral during this process and mainly stored in the bones and teeth. Consuming adequate calcium in adolescence is crucial for bone growth and for long-term bone health in adult years. A calcium deficiency in children can lead to improper bone development among other bone health issues later in life.4

child drinking milk

Calcium Absorption

Milk and other dairy products are the main sources of calcium consumption in the American diet. Calcium absorption is affected by many other nutrients in the body and diet. Vitamin D is needed to properly absorb the nutrient, which is why it is used to fortify milk. Trace minerals like magnesium and zinc are also important for optimal bone growth and health. 



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Non-Dairy Calcium Food Sources

The number of dairy-free options are increasing as the trend of straying from cow's milk is on the rise.  This leaves an immense number of options for those who need to slash dairy from their diet for various reasons, a milk allergy, lactose intolerance or a vegan diet.  Almond, soy, rice, hemp and cashew milk are among a few of the many dairy-free alternatives, though, some are still concerned as to whether these plant-based milks are a sufficient source of calcium. Many of these products are now fortified with calcium, vitamin D and A to be a comparable product to cow's milk.  

Many studies do recommend that other foods be consciously added to the diet that have significant calcium sources. Many green, leafy vegetables have significant sources of calcium along with calcium fortified foods like fruit juices and drinks, tofu and cereals. 

If you’re looking to boost the nutritional value of your dairy alternative, consider a Custom Premix Solution from Glanbia Nutritionals. Not only do we have the expertise to bring you value throughout the entire premix process, our formulation and application scientists can help you at any stage of product development for any application. Contact us today to learn more. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Dairy is the main source of calcium in the American diet, making it the top food group for supporting healthy bones at all ages. Dairy is also a source of high-quality protein, with all the essential amino acids in the right proportions to meet the needs of the body—especially important for muscle building and maintenance for active, sports performance, and aging consumers. Dairy also contains several beneficial bioactive proteins such as lactoferrin, which supports healthy iron levels.

Dairy alternatives such as plant-based milks and plant-based yogurts are often fortified, making them a good calcium source for those with milk allergies or lactose intolerance. Some are also high in plant-based protein. In addition, both dairy and dairy alternatives are often fortified with vitamin D to improve calcium absorption. Dairy/plant-based milk blends are a trend that combine the high-quality protein of dairy with the phytonutrients and lower calories of plant-based milks.

Plant-based milk is made starting from beans (such as yellow peas or soybeans), nuts (such as almonds or cashews), grains (such as oats or rice), seeds (such as flax or hemp seeds), or another whole plant source. The starting material can either be soaked in water, ground into a slurry, and filtered to remove the insoluble fiber, or it can be ground into flour first before removing the insoluble fiber.

Next, water and other ingredients like flavors, sweeteners, vitamins, minerals, and thickeners are added. Finally, the plant-based milk is pasteurized and packaged. Some (like pea milk) are a good source of plant-based protein, while others (like oat milk) are known for their soluble fiber benefits. Manufacturers can also start with optimized ingredients to minimize any bitter plant tastes and ensure the smoothest texture.

Some of the best food sources of vitamin D, according to the USDA’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans, are certain types of fish (such as freshwater rainbow trout (645 IU per serving), salmon (383-570 IU), and canned light tuna (231 IU)), as well as raw mushrooms (114-1110 IU), and fortified dairy products like milk, yogurt, and cheese (85-117 IU).

In fact, most of the vitamin D in Americans’ diets comes from fortified foods and beverages. Today, there is a wide variety of vitamin D-fortified products to help boost intake of this shortfall nutrient—from plant-based milks to breakfast cereals to nutrition bars.


1.    American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. Milk & Dairy Allergies.
2.     Mailhot G, Perrone V, Alos N, Dubois J, Delvin E, Paradis L, Des Roches A. 2016. Cow's Milk Allergy and Bone Mineral Density in Prepubertal Children. Pediatrics. 137(5).
3.    Kleine-Tebbe J, Waßmann-Otto A, Mönnikes H. 2016. Food Allergy and Intolerance: Distinction, Definitions and Delimitation. 59(6):705-22.
4.    Office of the Surgeon General (US). 2019. Bone Health and Osteoporosis: What It Means to You. 
5.    National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements. Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Calcium. 
6.    US Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, Nutrient Data Laboratory. 2016. USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 28.

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