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Top 5 Ways to Have a Balanced Diet Without Dairy

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Updated June 02, 2008

Especially in lacto-vegetarian families, milk often fills an important nutritional niche. It's rich in protein, vitamins and minerals, and many toddlers will drink milk even when they're not enthusiastic about solid foods. Many families worry about staying healthy and maintaining adequate nutrition when they remove dairy products from the diet. Happily, though, all the beneficial components of milk are found in a variety of common foods. Read on to learn how to balance your milk-free diet.

As always, if you are worried about your diet, it's prudent to consult with a professional nutritionist.

1. Protein

Adults and teens require fifty to sixty grams of protein daily. Children's needs range from nine to 34 grams, depending on age.

People who eat meat even infrequently are likely to far exceed their minimum protein needs. Six ounces of lean ground beef has over 45 grams of protein. It's not difficult for vegetarians to get enough, either. Great vegetarian sources of protein include:

  • Tofu (ten grams per serving);
  • Legumes like kidney beans, chickpeas, or nuts (seven to nine grams per serving);
  • Eggs (six grams per egg);
  • Whole grains (quinoa has thirteen grams per serving; wheat and oats have six each)

2. Calcium

Calcium is a vital mineral for building bone mass, and milk is a rich source. Adult women have the highest calcium needs, at 1,000 to 1,500 mg per day, while children require between 500 and 1,300 mg.

There are two ways to replace dairy calcium in the diet. The first is to eat foods that have been supplemented with calcium or to take supplements. Common calcium-fortified foods include orange juice, cranberry juice, breakfast cereals, and soy milk.

The second is to eat nondairy foods that are especially high in calcium. Some good sources are kale, collard greens, tofu, shellfish, salmon, legumes, and amaranth.

3. Vitamin D

Vitamin D is used in the body to help absorb dietary calcium. Vitamin D deficiency can cause serious disorders of the bones like rickets and osteomalacia. These are very rare disorders, however, since vitamin D can be produced naturally by the body upon exposure to the sun. Ten to 15 minutes per day of direct sunlight is sufficient to prevent vitamin D deficiency.

Good nondairy dietary sources of vitamin D include eggs, fish, oysters, fortified cereals, and cod liver oil.

4. Riboflavin

Riboflavin, or vitamin B2, is one of the B-complex of vitamins vital for processing carbohydrates in the body. It has recently become popular as a treatment for migraine headaches, as it has been clinically shown to reduce their frequency.

While riboflavin is available in supplement form, it is not particularly difficult to get vitamin B2 from an otherwise well-balanced diet. The RDA (recommended daily allowance) for riboflavin is 0.5 mg per thousand calories eaten on a daily basis. Leafy greens, sweet potatoes, whole grains, and meat are good sources. Some cereals and breads are enriched with riboflavin as well.

5. Phosphorus

Milk is among the richest dietary sources of phosphorus, a mineral that helps regulate cell function in the body. It is a major component of bones and teeth.

Meat eaters should easily get adequate phosphorus in the diet without dairy; fatty fish, in particular, are an efficient way to meet your phosphorus needs. Vegetarians' best options for phosphorus are legumes, which are high in phosphorus but not absorbed as easily in the body as the phosphorus found in animal products. Another good source is bread, especially if the bread has been leavened with yeast.

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  6. Top Five Concerns in Balancing Your Diet Without Dairy Products

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