Living with lactose intolerance

dairy productsIf you’re lactose intolerant, you know how difficult it can be to get much-needed calcium from your diet. While canned salmon and sardines and calcium-rich vegetables like kale and broccoli can boost your calcium intake, it’s unrealistic to expect anyone to eat those foods all day, every day. But lactose-intolerant people need not despair. It’s possible for many to get enough calcium and calcium-rich dairy products without painful gas and diarrhea. Here’s how:

You may not need to completely avoid dairy products. People with lactose intolerance may be able to slowly build up the ability to digest lactose (up to the equivalent of 2 cups of milk a day) by gradually increasing your intake over a period of days or weeks. Divide up your intake throughout the day, consuming no more than 1/2 cup of milk at one time, and include other foods with your dairy intake. Fat and fiber help slow the passage of lactose through your intestines and improve digestion.

You may tolerate some dairy products better than others. A nutrition label that shows only a small amount of carbohydrate—as on aged cheese, for example—is a sign that the food contains little lactose. You may also find it easier to tolerate foods with active cultures, such as yogurt or cultured buttermilk.

Modern technology offers several options. You can buy lactose-reduced products, some of which are calcium fortified. Or add lactase drops to milk and refrigerate for 24 hours. Oral enzyme tablets also can provide relief. Try different brands since they relieve different symptoms.

Give soy milk a try. It comes in a variety of flavors and is widely available. Just be sure it’s calcium fortified.

Finally, if you take calcium supplements, take no more than 500 milligrams at a time between meals or at bedtime. (Make sure they’re lactose free.)