Treatment for Lactose Intolerance

Tips for treating lactose intolerance, plus calcium substitute ideas.
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A diagnosis of lactose intolerance doesn't mean your love affair with all things creamy is over. Simple dietary changes can put you in better control of your symptoms.

For many individuals, relief comes from determining how much lactose they can take. For instance, you may be able to gulp down a glass of milk, but your husband can only stomach a quarter-cup. Trial and error -- and most likely some trips to the bathroom -- will help you find your limit. While most older children and adults can get by with some milk and the occasional ice cream, young children who suffer from the ailment should eliminate all foods containing lactose.

Over-the-counter lactase enzymes (available in tablet or liquid form) can help you digest foods that contain lactose. The tablets should be taken just before eating something with lactose, or you can add a few drops to your milk or cream. In addition, lactose-reduced milk and other products are widely available at most supermarkets.

Meeting calcium requirements is often a concern for those with a lactase deficiency, but it needn't be. "You can still eat most cheeses and yogurt with active cultures, which are naturally lactose free," says Sheila Crowe, MD, an associate professor of internal medicine at the Digestive Health Center of Excellence at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. She stresses that not all dairy products cause lactose intolerance symptoms. Milk, ice cream, butter, and young or soft cheeses like cottage or ricotta are the primary enemies of the lactose intolerant.

What's more, you can get bone-building calcium from nondairy foods as well. Fill your grocery cart with green veggies like broccoli and kale, fish like salmon, sardines, and tuna, calcium-fortified orange juice, soymilk, oranges, and pinto beans. Steer clear of Swiss chard, spinach, and rhubarb, which contain substances called oxalates that stop calcium absorption, and be sure to get vitamin D, found in eggs and liver or synthesized by moderate exposure to sunlight.

The ultra sensitive will have to be sleuths when it comes to prepared foods like baked goods, cereals, and margarine, which are often hidden sources of lactose. In addition, some products labeled nondairy -- such as powdered coffee creamer and whipped toppings -- may contain the milk sugar. Lastly, watch for words like whey, curds, milk by-products, dry milk solids, and nonfat dry milk powder, which all indicate lactose.


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