You are currently viewing Nutrients To Replace When Going Dairy Free (2023)

Nutrients To Replace When Going Dairy Free (2023)

Disclaimer: I am not a medical or dietary professional. All of the information in this article was gathered to offer base-level knowledge about managing a non-dairy diet and is not considered medical advice.

Dairy is nutrient-dense and easy to consume, so there are important nutrients to replace when going dairy free. Switching to a dairy free diet will reduce some bad cholesterol and reduce calories, but you’ll need to be conscious about the good things that will be removed. Going dairy free reduces a surprising amount of positive nutrients you were receiving from dairy.

The first nutrient that usually comes to mind when not eating dairy is a reduction in calcium. Dairy is also high in protein, Vitamin B2 (riboflavin), Vitamin B12, Potassium, Phosphorus, Vitamin A, Zinc, Magnesium, and usually has added Vitamin D. With conscious effort, there are ways to replenish the recommended daily dose of these nutrients with diet and supplements.

How to Replace the Nutrients found in Dairy

Dairy is one of the foods that offer the highest value in many of these nutrients per serving. It’s not surprising that milk is nutrient dense since its intended purpose is to grow babies. It’s also not surprising that it’s artificially fortified with important nutrients because it is so commonly consumed.

That being said, alternative sources to replace the nutrients found in dairy are often meats, greens, and nuts. Unprocessed or less processed foods are the most likely to contain the highest volume of nutrients to replace when going dairy free. With attention and conscious effort, you can replace them with a plant-based diet, but it’s easier to replace them with a variety of produce and meat.

The most difficult aspect of consuming many of these nutrients is the impression that we can get our entire recommended daily value from one serving of one food that is high in the substance. This isn’t usually the case.

I compared numbers side-by-side to get a foundational understanding of what I’m looking at and noticed that the volume of non-dairy alternatives needed to replace the daily value of nutrients in dairy was a lot higher for most nutrients. The exception was dairy free milks. I included a chart below to compare a few examples of the nutrition found in dairy vs. the recommended dairy-free alternatives.

Calcium 

calcium-nutrients-to-replace-dairy-free-diet

One great way to replenish calcium when going dairy free is to pay attention to the milk alternatives you can replace milk with. Almond milk, oat milk, and lactose free cow’s milk all have a comparable amount of calcium, even sometimes exceeding the amount of calcium in regular milk.

Between plant-based lattes or creamer and a milk alternative with one other meal, you can replace many nutrients you would have been receiving from those options. 

This being said, 1 cup of regular milk only has 25% of your daily recommended calcium, and the cheddar cheese in the chart below only has 15% in a 1/8 cup serving. Since dairy is in so many foods, we may have been getting small doses of calcium throughout the day, so being conscious of calcium intake is important.

Foods high in calcium include seeds, beans, almonds, salmon, edamame, tofu, and fortified orange juice.

Protein

Protein

When my family stopped eating dairy the first time, I didn’t pay much attention to the nutrition lost in a diary free diet because I was focusing on what foods I could add to our diet and trying to stay afloat. I experienced the effects of not getting enough protein because I had no idea that dairy was providing so much protein to my diet. When I shifted my efforts to eating more protein, I felt much healthier. 

There are many ways to increase protein both through food and through plant-based protein powders. However, most protein powders are made with whey, which is a by-product of the cheese-making process, so whey should not be used in a non-dairy diet. This is why my emphasis is on plant-based protein.

There’s another source of supplemental protein that’s not advertised as protein, but has a significant amount in it, which is collagen. Collagen is made from cows, chicken, pork, and fish, and is rumored to be good for you in many ways ranging from healthier skin to healthier joints. I’ll let you hop down that rabbit hole, but I think it’s worth exploring if you’re looking for ways to increase protein.

My other caution with using protein powder and collagen is that they are classified as dietary supplements instead of being food. This means they’re not regulated by the FDA, just like vitamins aren’t regulated. This has never stopped me from taking them before, and since I personally feel better when taking protein supplements and vitamins. 

Vitamin B2 (aka Riboflavin) 

vitamin-b2-riboflavin

Vitamin B2 is another nutrient to replace when going dairy free. Eggs are a good source of Vitamin B2. One egg accounts for about 15% of recommended daily consumption of Vitamin B2, but this isn’t listed on most grocery labels.

Mushrooms are another good source of riboflavin. ¼ cup of mushrooms has about 9.5% DV.

The next best source is meat, which varies by type. Myfooddata offers a list of other sources and amounts, including spinach, almonds, and avocados. It seems achieving your recommended daily value of Vitamin B2 is difficult by just eating foods, so a supplement is a good idea here. 

Vitamin B12

vitamin-b12

The primary way to consume vitamin B12 is also by eating meat and eggs. It is also in brewers yeast or nutritional yeast, which is a surprisingly versatile ingredient when flavoring dairy free recipes. It ranges from a topping to a common ingredient in lactation cookies. Vitamin B12 is also added to some cereals. 

Humans only need about 2.4 micrograms per day, but chicken, eggs, pork, and salmon are all estimated to have about .6 micrograms per serving. Beef is estimated to have 100% daily value of vitamin B12.

Potassium

Potassium

Potassium is in many fruits, vegetables, legumes, and nuts, and is another nutrient to replace when going dairy free. There is about 400mg of potassium in 1 cup of milk, which is similar to the amount in 1 banana. A classic example of a food that is high in potassium is bananas.

While bananas contain a significant amount of our daily value of potassium, they have about 450mg (12% DV), while the recommended DV is 3500mg. That means in order to reach our daily dose of potassium only from bananas, we would need to eat about seven and a half bananas.

Dried fruits pack a high concentration of potassium in a small amount, so that’s an excellent source. For example, one small box of raisins contains about 320mg of potassium. Potatoes, broccoli, and avocados are also good sources.

Phosphorus

Phosphorus

Phosphorus is found in meats, poultry, nuts, and legumes. This mineral is often in the same foods that are high in protein. It is more efficiently absorbed from animal-based foods than plant-based foods, though it is present in some vegetables and whole wheat foods. It is also often added to cereals. 

Similarly to calcium, bones will release phosphorus into your blood when not enough is absorbed through diet, and Harvard School of Public Health recommends 700mg per day for adult men and women. 

Vitamin A (added during processing)

vitamin-a-added-during-processing

Like many processed foods, Vitamin A is added to milk during processing. Carrots, leafy greens, other vegetables, fish oils, and eggs are all good sources of Vitamin A. It is recommended that adults get about 900 mcg of Vitamin A daily. 

For reference, 1 cup of fresh spinach has 141 mcg of Vitamin A, 1 cup of cantaloupe has 299 mcg, and 1 cup of red tomatoes has 75.60 mcg, which is 8% DV.

Vitamin D (added during processing)

vitamin-d-added-during-processing

Vitamin D should be consumed from your diet as well as from the sun. Experts from Yale Medicine recommend consuming a large portion of Vitamin D daily value through food. Ways to add it to your diet are through eating fish, drinks fortified with Vitamin D, such as orange juice and non-dairy milks, eggs, and fortified cereals. 

Zinc

zinc

Zinc isn’t often correlated with being in dairy, but one serving of whole milk contains about 30% of daily recommended zinc. This makes it an important nutrient to replace in your diet when going dairy free.

Meat, seafood, avocados, mushrooms, nuts, and broccoli are all high in zinc. Adult men should aim for about 11mg of zinc daily, and adult women should aim for 8mg daily. 

Magnesium

magnesium

While dairy doesn’t have a significant amount of magnesium, it does have some, and many people are finding that they have a magnesium deficiency. Magnesium is important for many things, but it may affect melatonin and assist the sleep cycle.

Magnesium has a similar issue to most nutrients in this list in that even where the recommended foods have a high amount, one serving doesn’t have enough for the day, so it takes a bit to reach the daily recommended dose.

For example, the National Institutes of Health has a chart located in the “health professional” tab on their page about magnesium where they explore different foods and their magnesium levels. 

1 ounce of roasted pumpkin seeds has about 156mg of magnesium per serving, which is 37% of the recommended daily value. Next on the list is 1 ounce of chia seeds at 111mg and 26% DV. Then 1 ounce of almonds drops to 80mg of magnesium, which is 19% DV. The amount of magnesium in each recommended food continues to diminish as the list goes on. 

Compare Nutrients in Dairy to Alternatives – With Examples

compare-nutrients-in-dairy-to-recommended-replacement-foods

When I started researching the nutrients to replace when going dairy free, I was surprised at the volume I would have to eat of the recommended alternative foods to meet the nutrients lost.

One good example of a replacing nutrients of dairy is that 1 cup of broccoli is a suitable replacement for 1 cup of milk in terms of Potassium, Vitamin A, and Zinc. However, I know I’m not going to eat 1 cup of broccoli daily. On the other hand, it’s easy to eat full servings of dairy daily without even trying.

Compare that to chicken breast for vitamin B2 and vitamin B12. Milk contains about 37% and 46% of the daily value of each, respectively. However, when replacing that with the recommended dairy-free alternative of chicken breast, 1 cup of chicken breast only contains 18% DV of vitamin B2, and 20% DV of vitamin B12.

It will be easiest to replace these nutrients in dairy by eating a well-rounded diet. However, I understand that’s not possible for everyone, so do your best to add in the good nutrition when you can, and figure out what supplements you need along the way.

Nutrients in Dairy vs Replacement Foods

Product & ServingCaloriesCalciumProteinVitamin B2 (Riboflavin)Vitamin B12PotassiumPhosphorusVitamin AVitamin DZincMagnesium
Whole Milk 1cup149275mg (25% DV)8g37% DV46% DV400mg138mgapprox. 112 micrograms10% DV3-4mg (Approx. 35% DV)24-27mg (Approx. 7% DV)
Low Fat Milk 1 cup102306mg8g.5mg (38% DV)1.2mcg (54% DV)366mg111mg6% DV1.05 mg
Mild Cheddar Cheese 1oz (1/8 cup)114204.4mg7.6g.11mg (9% DV).24mcg27.78mg145.15 mg284.07 IU3.4 IU.88 mg
Unsweetened Almond Milk 1 cup30450mg (35%)1g170mg (4% DV)150mcg (15%)2.5mcg (15%)
Unsweetened Oat Milk 1 cup120350mg (25% DV)3g.6 mg (45% DV)390mg (20% DV)270mg (20% DV)160mcg (20% DV)3.6mcg (20% DV)
Lactose Free 2% Milk 1 cup120290mg8g370mg150mcg2.5mcg
Broccoli 1 cup3043mg (6% DV)2.6g288mg60mg57.4IU.37mg19mg
Canned Green Beans 1/2c1527mg1g63mg
Chicken Breast 4.9oz (140g/approx. 1 cup)23416.8mg (1% DV)35g.25mg (18% DV).5 mcg (20% DV)321mg269mg25mcg.1mcg2.13mg.024mg
Organic Baby Spinach 2 cups (85g)2079.9mg2g470mg0IU
Cantaloupe 1 cup (160g)6014.4ng1.31g.043mg251mg27.2mg371mcg.704mg20.8mg
Pistachios 3/4 cup (100g)598117mg20.5g947mg500mg2.18mg110mg
Numbers on this chart are not exact. They are sourced from nutrition labels and online sources but vary from product to product.

Supplements

supplements

The most reliable way to absorb nutrients is to eat whole and less-processed foods, but vitamins and other supplements are great ways to get that home stretch of daily nutrients. Especially if there is something in particular that you’re lacking.

A multivitamin is a great place to start replacing the nutrients of dairy, but nuts, legumes, protein powder (non-whey), and collagen are worth looking into as supplemental protein sources.

There is a vitamin that is specifically made with Calcium and Vitamin D together, which is great for those with a dairy allergy. Also assess your magnesium needs, because that is sometimes lacking in the standard American diet.

Next, explore alternative options for supplements and for healing your gut. Gut health can be an issue for those with dairy intolerance, so do your research on prebiotic and probiotic supplements, fiber, drinking tea, and more.

The best way to replace the nutrients found in dairy is to pay attention to how much less-processed foods are in your diet and what nutrients they contain.

Work closely with your doctor when making dietary changes, and even request lab work if you’re concerned. A nutritionist is also great resource for receiving individualized information.

FAQs

What foods can be eaten to make up for not eating dairy?

The closest food to replace nutrients found in dairy is nut-based milks. Where they don’t meet the nutritional values that are in dairy, they are often fortified to replace those nutrients. The next option is to eat a high volume of foods that are high in nutrients that need to be replaced when going dairy free. Check labels when buying to check the exact nutrition.

Here is a quick list to get you started:
-Calcium: plant-based milk, seeds, soybean products, leafy greens
-Protein: meat, nuts, beans, soybean products
-Vitamin B2 (riboflavin): eggs, meat, mushrooms, avocados, leafy greens
-Vitamin B12: meat, eggs, nutritional yeast, mushrooms, some cereals
-Potassium: raisins, broccoli, pistachios, meat, produce
-Phosphorus: meats, nuts, legumes
-Vitamin A: carrots, leafy greens, vegetables, eggs
-Vitamin D: eggs, non-dairy milks, fish, fortified juice, fortified cereals
-Zinc: meat, seafood, avocados, mushrooms, nuts
-Magnesium: pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, broccoli, cantaloupe

What nutrients am I missing by not eating dairy?

Dairy contains many important nutrients that are both naturally found in milk, and added during processing. These nutrients include calcium, protein, vitamin A, vitamin B2 (riboflavin), vitamin B12, Vitamin D, potassium, phosphorus, zinc, and magnesium. While this seems like a long list, there are many foods and supplements that will get these nutrients to you in a dairy free diet. Some of the nutrients that are missing when not eating dairy are overlapping and easy to replace, while others will take more effort. Eating a plant-based diet will require a little more conscious effort, especially for vitamin B, vitamin B12, vitamin D, and protein.

What vitamins to take when cutting out dairy?

To replace the vitamins needed when cutting dairy, start with a multivitamin. Next, see if you need a calcium and vitamin D supplement. There are supplements that contain both. Also, consider magnesium; many are finding they have a magnesium deficiency, which can affect sleep and other issues.

From there, research alternative supplements like sea moss vitamins, prebiotics and probiotics, drinking tea, and plant-based protein powders.

To determine what vitamins you need to take when cutting out dairy, talk to your doctor, assess your diet, speak with a nutritionist and you can even have bloodwork done to see if you’re receiving enough of some of the nutrients found in dairy.

Conclusion for “Nutrients to Replace When Going Dairy Free”

conclusion-for-nutrients-to-replace-when-going-dairy-free

Going dairy-free doesn’t have to mean compromising nutrition. It’s important to be mindful of the nutrients to replace when going dairy free and to take proactive steps to replace them. There are a range of vitamins and minerals to pay attention to from calcium to vitamin D, zinc, and more.

Lacking these nutrients can lead to deficiencies that can easily be avoided by proactive meal planning or taking supplements. Always work with your doctor or a nutritionist when making these changes.

Plant-based milks are often fortified with these, so that’s a great place to start. Produce, especially vegetables and leafy greens, are the best source of the nutrients that will need to be replaced in a dairy free diet.

Leave a Reply