Think You are Lactose Intolerant? You Might Want to Think Again

It’s popular to avoid certain types of foods, from gluten and soy to fructose and dairy.  But many people stay away from these foods not because they have a health condition that is exacerbated when eating these foods but because they are on some type of diet.

Experts warn that avoiding certain foods without a medical reason won’t do the trick for losing weight. The truth is if you do lose weight with this technique, it’s probably more because of other diet changes you make and not because you omit one type of food. Don’t put your health at risk by leaving out important vitamins and minerals that your body needs to function properly.

Staying away from dairy has been one of the most popular diet trends. Grab any detox diet, low-carb diet or some “paleo-caveman” diet and chances are that the first thing stated to avoid is dairy. The trend has gotten so out of hand that people are self-diagnosing lactose intolerance simply when they feel bloated or have diarrhea.

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Real or not? Plus a way to teach yourself to tolerate lactose.

Nancy Patin Falini, MA, RD, LDN, author and  consultant to the Celiac Center at Paoli Hospital, explains that  “many people self diagnose or are professionally diagnosed with lactose malabsorption and relate symptoms to this perceived or real condition. However, many people avoid calcium rich dairy products unnecessarily when clinical symptoms do not actually exist or may exist due to another condition, i.e., irritable bowel. Lactose intolerance doesn’t always result in lactose sensitivity.”

To fully grasp the meaning of lactose intolerance, Roberta Anding, sports nutritionist and ADA spokesperson, says it is a cluster of symptoms that includes diarrhea, gas, cramping and bloating.  “Lactose intolerance is considered to be a non-immune mediated type of reaction,” says Anding.  “This means it is not a true food allergy but rather intolerance. It is caused by an absence or reduction in the lactase enzyme.”

Even if you have been diagnosed with primary lactose deficiency, which occurs after the first few years of life, Patin Falini points out that gradually people can teach the body to tolerate lactose by distributing lactose intake throughout the day over time.

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“A person who avoids dairy should realize that first they may be able to tolerate it in small amounts and if that is not the case then choosing foods that are rich in calcium and vitamin D should be a priority,” she says.

Eliminating vitamin D-fortified dairy products, thus removing a key source of calcium is thought to impose concern for bone health and increase the risk of osteoporosis. A lack of calcium may also contribute to the risk of hypertension and colon cancer, according to Patin Falini.

Fat burner

Don’t think that you can cover all your vitamins and minerals deficiencies with a supplement. Recent studies support that some of the health benefits of these micro-nutrients are lost when taking in supplements. This is the case when getting the “fat loss” benefits of dairy intake.

A study published by The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows that subjects whose diets were pretty much the typical American diet (about 35 percent fat, 49 percent carbohydrates, 16 percent protein and 8/12 g of fiber/day of total intake) and received the adequate diary intake (3 daily servings of dairy, each provided 300-350 mg calcium and 8-10 g of protein) decreased body fat (around 1 Kg), oxidative and inflammatory stress, typically elevated when facing obesity and metabolic syndrome. This was compared to low dairy (less than 0.5 servings) intake group.

“Dairy foods are rich in protein, promote satiety and allow for lean body mass composition. Fat free/nonfat/skim and 1 percent fat dairy products can be a part of a healthy diet, i.e., 1 percent fat milk or kefir, fat free Greek yogurt or lower fat cheeses containing no more than 3 grams fat/serving or 1 oz,” says Patin Falini.

Indeed, studies show that the increase in fat burnout with milk intake could be explained due to its protein content, in specific whey protein, in addition to calcium and other vitamin content. In a study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, when men in different groups were given the same calorie equivalents in skim milk, soy milk and a carbohydrate beverage after 12 weeks of resistance training, the milk group lost more fat and increased over 40 percent of their muscle mass compared to the other two groups – one solid reason to have a cup of milk after working out.

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“Yogurt and cheese are often tolerated for people who have lactose intolerance.  Yogurt with active cultures contains less lactose than milk and with cheese the majority of lactose is in the whey and cheese is actually the curd,” says Anding.

Non-dairy calcium options

Nevertheless, sometimes is hard to meet the daily requirement for calcium and vitamin D, which is particularly true for people with diagnosed lactose intolerance.

Patin Falini suggests taking calcium citrate, which can be taken any time, without food and no more than 500 mg at one time since it won’t be absorbed. She advises taking calcium supplements at night and not with an iron supplement.

If the idea of having a milk mustache isn’t for you, look for this non-dairy naturally calcium-rich foods such as amaranth grains, flaxseeds, almonds, garbanzo/chickpeas, broccoli, salmon, kale and spinach. Other calcium lactose-free fortified beverages are soy, rice, hemp and coconut milk and orange juice. But beware of the high sugar and low protein content that some of these fortified beverages have.

Marta Montenegro is an exercise physiologist, certified strength and conditioning, coach and master trainer who is an adjunct professor at Florida International University. Marta has developed her own system of exercises used by professional athletes. Her personal website, combines fitness, nutrition and health  tips, exercise routines, recipes and the latest news to help you change your life but not your lifestyle. She was the founder of nationally awarded SOBeFiT magazine and the fitness DVD series Montenegro Method.

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