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Feel good in your bones

In my recent article Dear Dairy, I mentioned the benefits of including dairy products in your healthy diet in order to get enough calcium. After reading the article, a reader contacted me, reminding m...

In my recent article Dear Dairy, I mentioned the benefits of including dairy products in your healthy diet in order to get enough calcium. After reading the article, a reader contacted me, reminding me that some people find milk hard to digest. Good point! This month let’s look at one of the main difficulties with digesting milk -lactose intolerance.

First of all, what is lactose intolerance? It is a condition triggered by the digestive system because someone cannot digest lactose, the major sugar found in milk. When the lining of a person’s small intestine does not produce enough of the enzyme lactase, their body cannot break down lactose.

Lactose intolerance affects between 30 and 50 million North Americans. Some ethnic and racial populations are more affected than others -up to 80% of African Americans, 80 to 100% of American Indians, and 90 to 100% of Asian Americans are lactose intolerant. However, people of northern European descent are least likely to have this condition. Interestingly, if you were a premature baby, you’re quite likely lactose intolerant, because your intestines may not have been fully developed at birth.

For whatever reason, if you are lactose intolerant, you’ve experienced these common symptoms: nausea; cramps; bloating; gas; and diarrhea. You usually experienced those symptoms about 30 minutes to two hours after you ate or drank a food with lactose in it.

Your symptoms may have been mild or severe, depending on many factors, including: how much lactose you ate; how sensitive you are to lactose; how old you are; how fast your digestive system works; and what ethnic background you’re from.

If you have all these symptoms after having milk products, your doctor can test you using a lactose intolerance test, a hydrogen breath test, or a stool acidity test to be sure the actual problem is lactose intolerance.

If it is, unfortunately there is no treatment to make your body better at producing lactase. Yet, you can control your symptoms by adjusting your diet. You may not have to totally eliminate all milk products and usually you just find out how much lactose you can comfortably handle through trial and error.

Most adults can tolerate a little, but each person is unique in the amounts and types of foods they can handle.

As well, be sure to know how much dairy you’re really getting, some foods may actually have hidden dairy ingredients. So, before buying a food, make sure you read the label. If it says: milk, lactose, whey, curds, milk by-products, dry milk solids, and non-fat dry milk powder, the product will contain lactose.

If you’re not careful you may be eating dairy ingredients in some unsuspected places because lactose is often added to prepared foods. Here are some common ones: bread and other baked goods; instant potatoes; processed breakfast cereals; soups; margarine; breakfast drinks; lunch meats; salad dressings; candies; mixes for cakes, pancakes and cookies; and powdered meal replacement drinks.

Even some “non-dairy” products, like coffee creamer and whipped toppings, can have some dairy ingredients. Some prescription drugs and over-the-counter medicines may, too.

If you are a person who reacts to even a very small amount of lactose, you may want to keep handy a lactase enzyme in tablet or liquid form. You can get it without a prescription at the drug store. To avoid discomfort, take the tablets or a few drops of the liquid with the first bite of any dairy food.

Even if you must avoid eating dairy completely, you can still maintain your health and get enough calcium each day. If you never drink milk or eat cheese again, you can still get the recommended daily amount of 1,000 mg/day from other food sources.

Here are some good ones and the amount of calcium they contain: One ounce fortified ready-to-eat cereals, 236-1,043 mg; one cup calcium-fortified soy beverage, 368 mg; three ounces Atlantic sardines in oil, 325mg; half a cup tofu, 253 mg; three ounces canned pink salmon with bone, 181 mg; half a cup cooked collards, 178 mg; one tablespoon blackstrap molasses, 172 mg; half cooked spinach, 146 mg; half a cup cooked, green soybeans, 130 mg; half a cup cooked turnip greens, 124 mg; three ounces Atlantic ocean perch, 116 mg; one packet plain or flavoured, fortified oatmeal, 107 mg; half a cup cooked cow peas, 106 mg; half a cup cooked white beans, 96 mg; half a cup cooked kale, 90 mg; half a cup cooked okra, 88 mg; half a cup cooked soybeans, 88 mg; three ounces canned blue crab, 86 mg; half cup cooked beet greens, 82 mg; half a cup cooked Chinese cabbage, 79 mg; three ounces canned clams, 78 mg; half a cup cooked dandelion greens, 74 mg; and three ounces cooked rainbow trout, 73 mg.

Whether you like grains, greens or seafood, try these great nondairy sources of calcium; you’ll feel it right in your bones. •

-Karen Bowen is a professional health and nutrition consultant and she can be reached by e-mail at

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