Summer is just around the corner, which means backyard barbecues, trips to the beach and taking the kids for ice cream. Unfortunately, those of you who have trouble digesting dairy products may not be able to indulge in a scoop of rocky road on a hot summer evening.
If you suffer from lactose intolerance, as many of my patients do, you may be tempted to shun all milk products. This may not be necessary. In order to help my patients experience more pleasure and less stress due to eating, I have researched natural ways to deal with the common problem of lactose intolerance.
Your Unique Condition
Lactose intolerance is a common problem that is often due to aging. Lactose is a natural sugar that is present in milk and other dairy products. Our small intestine is responsible for producing lactase, the enzyme needed to normally digest lactose. If the body does not produce a sufficient amount of the enzyme, lactose reaches the large intestine without being properly broken down. This results in the familiar symptoms of gas, bloating, stomach pain and diarrhea.
It’s clear from speaking with many lactose intolerant patients over the years that everyone experiences the condition a little bit differently. For instance, some people can drink up to one glass of milk per day with no problems. Some can digest certain dairy products, but not others.
Everyone has different combinations of symptoms, but in most people, discomfort strikes 30 minutes to 2 hours after eating a problem food.
Tips for Tolerance
Successfully managing your condition means understanding how your body responds to different foods and different treatment strategies. While there is no cure for lactose intolerance, the following tips will help you manage the symptoms so you can enjoy eating:
1) Substitute soy – Soy milk and cheese products are delicious and healthy alternatives that contain no lactose.
2) Try yogurt – Just make sure it contains live, active cultures. Studies show that these live, healthy bacterial cultures may aid in the digestion of lactose.
3) Combine liquids and solids – Many people, who cannot tolerate milk on its own, can digest it in combination with a solid food, like cereal.
4) Consider probiotics – Supplements containing “healthy bacteria” may contribute to easier digestion not only in the lactose intolerant, but for those suffering from other digestive problems.
5) Test a variety of dairy – Since everyone is different, you may be able to eat certain dairy products, especially those that contain lower levels of lactose. Cheddar and Swiss cheeses, for example, contain significantly less lactose than milk or cream.
6) Look at lactase supplements – Many over the counter products containing the enzyme needed to digest dairy are available. Some may work better for you than others, so try a few different products to gauge your reaction.
7) Sip some cocoa – Some studies have suggested that unsweetened cocoa powder may slow down the emptying of the stomach so the small intestine does not get overwhelmed with high levels of lactose.
Getting the Nutrients You Need
While the tips above should provide ample options to manage your lactose intolerance, getting adequate nutrients is still a concern. I have to remind my patients that cutting out most dairy products means that an entire food group is missing from their diets. Dairy products are often our greatest source of calcium, a nutrient that is vital for healthy bones and teeth.
If you cannot eat dairy, focus on some of the following foods which are good sources of calcium: broccoli, kale, canned salmon, calcium-fortified orange juice and cereal, and almonds.
If you include some of these delicious options in your diet, you will maintain good health despite your body’s resistance to lactose. As you can see, this is one of many ways to empower yourself and manage your health for the best possible quality of life.
Photo Credit: winnond