Here we are, in June already, and there’s been a big oversight that has yet to really be promoted and shared: June is “Dairy Alternative Month.” Not everyone can enjoy an ice cream or frozen yogurt, so below we are exploring the alternatives for the lactose intolerant — or for those just wishing to explore how removing dairy from their diet impacts how they feel.
If you have lactose intolerance, it means that your body has trouble breaking down lactose, the natural sugar in milk. You may be able to tolerate some dairy products, but you will also want to stick to a safe lactose intolerance diet. “Avoidance is the best treatment for lactose intolerance, but you need to be sure to get enough calcium in your diet,” says Amy E. Barto, MD, a gastroenterologist at the Lahey Clinic in Burlington, Mass. She says, “You can do this by supplementing your diet with the right food choices.” Find out about the smart — and delicious — food swaps you can make that will help you avoid lactose intolerance symptoms like gas, bloating, and diarrhea.
Drink Milk Without the Lactose
If you like cow’s milk splashed in your cereal or served along with a plate of cookies, you can still include it in your lactose intolerance diet by buying milk that has lactase added to it. Lactase is the enzyme that breaks down the sugar in milk — the enzyme that you don’t make enough of if you have lactose intolerance. Lactase-added milk and milk products are available in most supermarkets. This type of food for lactose intolerance has all the nutrition of regular milk, but it may taste a little sweeter.
Try Soy Milk
The National Academy of Sciences recommends that both men and women 19 to 50 years old should get about 1,000 mg of calcium every day. That translates to about three glasses of milk a day. Since milk and other dairy products account for the majority of calcium in the typical American diet, what can you do if you have lactose intolerance? One option is soy milk fortified with calcium, which may have up to 500 mg of calcium in a serving. However, if your child has a milk allergy — which is different from lactose intolerance — he or she may also be allergic to soy milk. Avoid using soy milk as a substitute for anyone with a milk allergy.
Explore Other Kinds of Milk
Drinking goat, sheep, or buffalo milk will not help your symptoms because all milk from mammals contains lactose. There are, however, milks for a lactose intolerance diet if you don’t like soy milk and still enjoy milk in your morning cereal or coffee. These dairy-free foods typically don’t have natural calcium, but they do have lots of vitamins and antioxidants. Almond milk is loaded with magnesium and vitamin E. Rice milk has almost no saturated fat and plenty of vitamin B12. Coconut milk tastes creamy like cow’s milk, but one drawback is that it has a lot of saturated fat. Other vegetable milks include oat, hemp, and cashew. However, these alternatives to cow’s milk don’t work well as substitutes for cooking, such as in soups or desserts that call for dairy.
Eat Yogurt for Less Lactose
If you have lactose intolerance, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that you choose dairy products with less lactose, such as yogurt with active bacterial cultures. “Yogurt may cause less bloating because much of the lactose has already been broken down by its ‘good’ bacteria,” explains Dr. Barto. However, frozen yogurt does not have active cultures, so it may not fit into your lactose intolerance diet.
Fermented cheeses have less lactose than other dairy products, and you may be able to tolerate them in small amounts. They are worth including in your lactose intolerance diet because they are good sources of calcium and protein. Examples of hard or aged cheeses that are low in lactose are Swiss, Parmesan, and blue cheeses. These cheeses typically have less than 2 grams of lactose per ounce, compared with 11 grams in a cup of milk. Try simple cheese and crackers for a boost of calcium.
Substitute Sherbet for Ice Cream
If you crave ice cream for dessert, you might be able to substitute sherbet in your lactose intolerance diet. Sherbet does contain some dairy, but it’s a low-lactose food — one cup has about 4 to 6 grams of lactose, about the same amount as a cup of yogurt and half as much as a cup of ice cream. Sherbet is a good example of a hidden source of lactose because you probably don’t think of it as a dairy product. “Other hidden sources of lactose include soups, salad dressings, and processed breakfast foods,” says Barto. Be sure not to include too many of these foods in your diet on a given day, since doing so may bring on lactose intolerance symptoms. If you’re looking for a frozen dessert without any lactose, choose ices or sorbet, which are dairy-free foods.
Increase Dairy-Free Foods With Calcium
“If your lactose intolerance is severe and you need to avoid all dairy foods, you can get plenty of calcium from leafy green vegetables,” suggests Barto. Vegetables high in calcium include rhubarb, spinach, broccoli, and certain greens like kale. For example, one cup of cooked spinach has about 250 mg of calcium. Other foods for a lactose intolerance diet include pinto beans and calcium-fortified orange juice.
Go Fishing for Calcium-Rich Foods
“It’s important to remember that lactose intolerance increases with age,” says Barto. Unfortunately, you also need more calcium as you get older. The recommended daily intake of calcium for people over age 50 is 1,200 mg — which is more calcium than is recommended for a younger adult (1,000 mg). If you’re in this age group and have trouble tolerating dairy, you should take extra care to eat calcium-rich foods without dairy. One way is by eating plenty of seafood. Small fish with soft bones like sardines are especially high in calcium. For example, 3 ounces of sardines with bones serve up more than 300 mg. Other high-calcium fish to include in a lactose intolerance diet are salmon and tuna.
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