Dairy alternatives

A number of products are marketed as alternatives to cow’s milk and include legume and nut and seed-based beverages such as soy, rice and almond drinks. These beverages are, however, not nutritionally equivalent to dairy foods. Unlike mammalian (cow’s) milk, these products do not naturally contain adequate calcium. Calcium is added into these products and there is evidence to suggest it is not as absorbable as the calcium found in cow’s milk1, nor do these beverages provide the same health benefits or unique package of nutrients as mammalian milk.

Non-dairy sources of calcium available include green leafy vegetables, canned fish with bones, cereals and almonds,2 however it is difficult to meet recommended calcium intakes with these alone. Calcium supplements can be taken and may be particularly useful for those who are unable to meet their recommended intakes via food (for example, the elderly with low energy requirements), however caution should be taken to ensure that other important nutrients provided by dairy foods (such as protein, potassium and magnesium) are not lost from the diet. 

Use the Nutrition Calculator to calculate recommended serves of the five food groups for each age and gender group.

1 Heaney RP et al. Bioavailability of the calcium in fortified soy imitation milk, with some observations on method. Am J Clin Nutr. 2000; 71:1166-69.

2 Weaver CM, Proulx WR, Heaney R. Choices for achieving adequate dietary calcium with a vegetarian diet. Am J Clin Nutr. 1999;70(3 Suppl):543-8S.