Q: Lisa (inquiry via the Go Dairy Free Facebook Fan Page) – Is the calcium carbonate they add to almond milk as sufficient as the calcium in cow’s milk?
A: Alisa – According to medical reports it is very close, if not just as good. Keep in mind, calcium absorption depends on many different factors. A myriad of different vitamins and minerals aid in calcium absorption (while some can hinder it), and various factors from the health of our guts to exercise to age can also affect how well calcium is absorbed and utilized.
Since we could dedicate an entire book to the topic of calcium, we will put these additional factors aside, and briefly address the types of calcium you are inquiring about specifically …
When we look at the effectiveness of minerals such as calcium, we can’t simply look at the quantity, we have to also look at the bioavailability, or the amount that our bodies are able to absorb and utilize. Not all of the calcium we intake is absorbed, and the bioavailability does vary among the different calcium compounds.
Calcium in milk is primarily found in the form of calcium phosphate, which is approximately 30 percent bioavailable. Calcium Carbonate has roughly the same bioavailablility, and though there hasn’t been a specific study on almond milk vs cow’s milk (to the best of my knowledge) there was one on cow’s milk vs soymilk fortified with calcium carbonate. In a study of healthy young women, the researchers found that calcium absorption is equivalent for calcium carbonate-fortified soymilk and cow’s milk at similar calcium loads.
Interestingly enough, there is another common calcium supplement with an even higher absorption rate or bioavailability, calcium citrate. Calcium citrate is not typically used to fortify milk alternatives, but it is often used in calcium-fortified orange juice.
As mentioned, there are many different factors that affect calcium absorption and overall bone health. For more on this topic, see the chapter called “Strong Bones, Calcium and Beyond” in Go Dairy Free.
For more dairy-free Q&A topics, see our Ask Alisa Page.
Alisa Fleming is the founder of GoDairyFree.org and author of Go Dairy Free: The Guide and Cookbook for Milk Allergies, Lactose Intolerance, and Casein-Free Living. In addition to her own dairy-free lifestyle, Alisa has experience in catering to the needs of various special diets, including gluten-free, soy-free, egg-free, vegan, and multiple food allergies.