For starters, a couple of simple dietary adjustments are in order. Carefully reading food labels is a good idea. Like Little Miss Muffett, you’re looking for curds and whey, as well as milk by‑products, dry milk solids and non-fat dry milk powder on the list of ingredients. If any of these are listed on a label, the item contains lactose.
While no treatment exists to improve the body’s ability to produce lactase, there are some over-the-counter medications that will allow you to consume calcium-rich dairy foods. Among the most popular is Lactade, a lactase enzyme tablet that helps digest solid foods that contain lactose. There are also solutions available that can be added to milk that will reduce the lactose content by up to 90 percent.
Dairy alternatives, like soy milk, almond milk and lactose‑reduced milk are available at many supermarkets. These products contain all of the nutrients found in regular milk, and remain fresh for about the same length of time (or longer, if the product is super‑pasteurized). Additionally, many non-dairy foods, including green vegetables like broccoli and kale, and fish with soft, edible bones such as salmon and sardines, are excellent sources of calcium.
Some experts say that the worst thing we can do is dump dairy altogether from our diets. Besides calcium and protein, dairy foods provide daily requirements of iron, calcium, potassium, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin A and phosphorous. Ann Rusniak, chief nutritionist at McDonald’s, Inc. and a former dietician at the National Dairy Council, believes that even the most lactose-intolerant person can reintroduce dairy into his diet, as long as he takes it slowly.
“Consuming milk in small portions throughout the day allows your body, which may only be producing small amounts of lactase, to digest the lactose you’re giving it,” Rusniak says. “Combining dairy with other foods is also a good idea, since solid foods slow down the digestion, which helps our systems handle lactose better.”
Although yogurt itself is fairly high in lactose, yogurts with active cultures are a good source of calcium for many people with lactose intolerance, Rusniak reports. Evidence shows that the bacterial cultures used in making yogurt produce some of the lactase enzyme required for proper digestion.
For people who work out regularly, dairy foods provide important, inexpensive, high quality protein. If you’re an endurance athlete, you may require up to five servings of the essential amino acids and protein that milk readily provides. Miller also points out that milk provides a convenient and high-powered source of protein right after a workout, that helps lower post-workout muscle pain and facilitates the repair process right away, leading to better exercise performance during your next round of exercise.
Miller says that athletes who are swapping a calcium substitute for milk may be missing out on one of the nine necessary nutrients, such as zinc (important for building lean body mass), that are delivered by dairy foods. “If you’re working out with any regularity,” he says, “you should be concerned about getting a well-balanced diet. Cutting out a food group and replacing it with a calcium supplement, even if it increases your protein intake or removes dairy from your diet, only exacerbates dietary problems.”
In any case, Miller insists that the news is all positive; if you are unable to digest dairy products, learning which foods to avoid is simple. Non-prescription medications make eating cheese easy again, and gradual re-introduction of dairy into your diet is another option. Chances are pretty good that, with a little practice, you’ll be sporting a milk moustache again in no time.
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