Dairy-Free Milk Provides Calcium for Children with Milk Allergies

By: Nikki Sepe on Feb 19, 2018

A recent study released by the American Academy of Pediatrics 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 (1).  Milk allergies are the most common allergies among children, estimating 2.5% of youth.  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 (2). 

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 dairy_free_milk-supp-image-400x500.jpgbone 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 also for future osteoporosis prevent in the adult years.  A calcium deficiency in children can lead to improper bone development, rickets, bone deformities, insomnia and growth retardation (4).

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.  Vitamin D is needed to properly absorb the nutrient, which is why it is used to fortify milk. There are also compounds that decrease the absorption of calcium, such as oxalates and phytates, commonly found in soy or plant products.  This is why milk is generally the most biologically available calcium source (5).  

Non-Dairy Calcium Food Sources

The amount of dairy-free options are increasing as the trend of straying from cow's milk is on the rise.  This leaves an immense amount 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 all now available as a dairy-free alternative, 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.  

The chart below compares the nutritional content of fortified 1% low-fat cow's milk to fortified soy milk (5).


Cow's Milk

Soy Milk

Calories 105 80
Protein (g) 8 7
Fat (g) 2 4
Carbohydrates (g) 12 4
Sugar (g) 12 1
Calcium (mg) 315 300
Vitamin D (mg) 100 120
Vitamin A (mg) 500 500
Cholesterol (mg) 20 0

Many studies do recommend that other foods are consciously added to the diet that have significant calcium sources. Many green, leafy vegetables have signifcant sources of calcium along with tofu, almonds and seeds. Even fruit juices, breads and cereals are fortified with calcium.

June is also National Dairy Alternative month! Celebrate by grabbing a glass of your favorite dairy-free milk or try out one of the delicious plant-based milks listed above. For more info, check out godairyfree.org.


  1. 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). pii: e20151742. doi: 10.1542/peds.2015-1742.
  2. Food Allergy Research and Education. 2016. Milk Allergy. Access: http://www.foodallergy.org/file/facts-stats.pdf
  3. Kleine-Tebbe J, Waßmann-Otto A, Mönnikes H. 2016. Food Allergy and Intolerance: Distinction, Definitions and Delimitation. 59(6):705-22. doi: 10.1007/s00103-016-2356-1.
  4. Office of the Surgeon General (US). 2004. Bone Health and Osteoporosis: A Report of the Surgeon General. Rockville (MD).
  5. National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements.2013. Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Calcium. Access: ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Calcium-HealthProfessional/
  6. US Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, Nutrient Data Laboratory. 2016. USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 28. Access: http://www.ars.usda.gov/nea/bhnrc/ndl