By: Ashley Statter, ‘18, University Health Center Nutrition Peer Educator
Don’t let lactose intolerance stop you from getting your daily dose of calcium! Lactose intolerance is very common and often occurs as people age because the enzyme in our bodies that digests lactose can become less abundant. Many students in their teens, myself included, start noticing that dairy products are upsetting their stomach. If this is the case, don’t panic! It is simple to get all the nutrients you need and still enjoy your favorite foods by slightly altering your diet.
It is important to know that decreasing dairy intake puts individuals at risk for calcium deficiency. Calcium is most commonly known for promoting healthy bone and teeth growth, but it is also needed for every single muscle contraction you make! Calcium deficiency can lead to loss of bone strength, and eventually osteoporosis in old age. Follow these tips to make sure you are getting at least three servings of calcium rich food a day.
- Know your body. Everyone’s level of lactose intolerance is different. Some affected individuals can still enjoy a glass of milk or a small portion of cheese, while others cannot digest it at all. If you are able to eat dairy products in moderation, then go for it, but set reasonable limits for yourself. For instance, I know that I can tolerate one cheese stick or one scoop of ice cream, but anything exceeding that will make me sick.
- Purchase dairy alternatives. If you still want some milk in your cereal, no fear, there are lots of delicious dairy alternatives that you can purchase at most grocery stores. Almond milk, soymilk, cashew milk, and rice milk are all lactose free and fortified with calcium. There are also lots of vegan cheeses that are dairy free and they even make dairy free ice cream and yogurt. One of my personal favorite desserts is ice cream made from coconut milk!
- Eat dairy free foods that are naturally calcium rich or fortified. There are actually a lot of food that do not contain dairy but can add some calcium to your diet! However, it should be noted that these foods do not contain as much calcium as dairy products. If you struggle with getting your daily dose of calcium, try some of these:
- Carrots, almonds, and oranges are easy snacks that you can eat at home or pack for on the go.
- Canned salmon (with bones), tofu, and white beans are not only packed with protein, but they also provide a source of calcium.
- Spinach, broccoli, bok choy, and kale are some calcium rich leafy greens
- Calcium fortified cereals and orange juice can serve as a great breakfast, especially when paired with a lactose free milk option!
- Enjoy dairy products that are naturally low in lactose. This is not a drill fellow cheese enthusiasts. There are actually a lot of low lactose dairy products! So if you are able to tolerate small doses of lactose, give these a try!
- Hard cheeses, such as cheddar, Swiss, and Parmesan are lower in lactose than soft cheeses like mozzarella and Brie.
- Cheese made from goat or sheep’s milk, such as feta cheese and goat cheese.
- Yogurt with live bacteria cultures can help your body digest the lactose.
- Kefir, a fermented milk beverage similar to yogurt. It is often referred to as the “champagne of dairy.”
- Lactose free cows milk.
Living with lactose intolerance is not always a walk in the park, but with a little knowledge and strategic planning it can be easily and healthily managed! Using the tips above, I survived six weeks in Switzerland – the land of cheese – last summer! I was able to try lots of new foods, including some of Switzerland’s famous cheeses and milk chocolates by knowing my limits and choosing the lowest lactose options. Food intolerances do not have to hinder the joy of eating or your health!