- Avoid Lactose Problems Without Hurting Nutrition

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Avoid Lactose Problems Without Hurting Nutrition

      ALBANY, N.Y. - Oh the bloating, the cramps, the, pardon me, gas. All blamed on a sugar called lactose that''s found in dairy products.

      According to the American Gastrointestinal Association, nearly 50 million Americans are lactose intolerant, and people in certain ethnic and racial groups are more widely affected by the condition than others. As many as 75 percent of all African-American, Jewish, American-Indian and Mexican-American adults are lactose intolerant. The number rises to 90 percent of all Asian-American adults.

      Simply avoiding dairy products is one way to reduce the discomfort associated with lactose intolerance, but dairy products are the primary source of calcium, a much-needed nutrient. In addition, some dairy products contain very little lactose and some prepared nondairy foods have lactose added to them. So how do you cope with the symptoms? Here''s help.

      What causes lactose intolerance?

      Cells that line the small intestine usually produce lactase, an enzyme the body uses to break down lactose into simpler forms that can be absorbed by the bloodstream. When the body doesn''t make enough lactase to digest the amount of lactose consumed, the results can be distressing, though not serious.

      What are the symptoms?

      The most common ones are nausea, cramps, bloating, gas and diarrhea that begin 30 minutes to two hours after eating foods that contain lactose. The severity of the symptoms varies with each individual.

      How can I tell if I''m lactose intolerant?

      Begin by keeping a record of everything you eat and what time you eat it as well as the symptoms you have and the times you have them. If you have symptoms after eating foods that contain lactose, cut down on those foods and see what happens.

      If your symptoms subside, and you suspect you''re lactose intolerant, see your doctor. He or she can rule out other, more serious conditions, determine your level of intolerance and help you adjust your diet.

      Do all dairy products contain lactose?

      Yes, but some have more lactose than others, which means you may have more difficulty with some products. While milk might bother some people, for instance, hard cheeses, which don''t contain as much lactose per serving, may not.

      In addition, some dairy products such as yogurt and buttermilk contain natural bacteria that help digest lactose. You may be able to tolerate these products easier than other dairy products that are not ``cultured.''

      Are there other foods that contain lactose?

      Yes. Some breads and baked goods contain lactose, as do some cereals, instant potatoes, soups and breakfast drinks. Margarine, lunch meats (except kosher), salad dressings, candies and mixes for pancakes, cakes, biscuits, cookies and sugar can also contain lactose.

      In addition, lactose is used as the base for manufacturing more than 20 percent of the prescription drugs in the United States, and 6 percent of the over-the-counter medications. Ironically, some tablets for reducing stomach acid and gas contain lactose, according to the American Gastrointestinal Association. Ask your pharmacist about lactose in medicines.

      How can I get the calcium I need and avoid embarrassing symptoms?

      There are several ways you can lower your consumption of lactose and still get enough calcium. First, several companies make reduced-lactose or lactose-free dairy products that still contain calcium.

      Secondly, there are a number of foods that contain high concentrations of calcium but no lactose, including: broccoli, bok choy, collard greens, kale and turnip greens. Also on the list are raw oysters, canned salmon with bones, sardines, canned shrimp, molasses and tofu processed with calcium salts.

      Finally, lactase, the enzyme that helps break down lactose, can be purchased in pill form and taken with meals.

      Do lactose-reduced milks taste different?

      We found that these products generally taste a little sweeter than regular milk.

      Do I really have to give up ice cream?

      Maybe not. Most people find that if they eat foods that contain lactose in small quantities, or with other foods, they can tolerate some lactose. So have your scoop of ice cream with an apple cobbler.



c.2000 Albany Times Union

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