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Lactose-free? You might be missing nutrients!

By Perrin Braun Dec 11, 2012

 

Are you lactose intolerant? Are you vegan? If you follow a low- or no-lactose diet, there are some key nutrients that you might be missing as a result of excluding dairy foods. To find out what nutrients you should increase, you can sign up for InsideTracker blood analysis and get dietary recommendations that benefit your physical performance and overall wellness while simultaneously helping you avoid lactose.image

Why follow a lactose-free or low-lactose diet?

Lactose is the simple sugar found in dairy products. The enzyme lactase, which is present in the lining of the small intestine, divides lactose into two simple sugars, which are (normally) absorbed by the body and used for fuel. Individuals who are lactose intolerant don’t have enough lactase in their intestine, and so they have trouble digesting the sugars in dairy products. As a result, they may experience bloating, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, or gas. Certain intestinal conditions, such as Crohn’s or celiac disease, and certain medications may also reduce your ability to digest lactose.

Which key nutrients are in dairy products?

Dairy products contain several nutrients that are essential for good health. While diets that are rich in milk, yogurt, cheese provide some important health benefits, your nutrient intake does not have to be shortchanged if you don’t eat dairy! Here are some important nutrients found in dairy products and some non-dairy alternatives:

Click here to learn how InsideTracker can recommend healthy dairy-free alternatives that will fit your unique physical and nutritional needs!

Calcium: InsideTracker scientists have identified calcium as critical to your physical well-being. Your body needs calcium to build and maintain strong bones and teeth. To maintain health, men and women aged 19-50 need 1000 mg of calcium each day; women over 50 and men over 70 need 1200 mg per day.

Milk has a reputation as the best source of calcium, but is that really true? For anyone who eats a lactose-free diet, there are lots of calcium-rich foods available.  Broccoli, kelp, almonds, quinoa, okra, and tofu not only are excellent sources of the nutrient, they’re also low in fat and calories. Incorporating more leafy green vegetables and dried beans into your diet is an easy and delicious way to help protect your bones. InsideTracker can give you other suggestions for non-dairy calcium sources.

Vitamin B12: In addition to calcium, cow’s milk also contains vitamin B12. This vitamin aids with brain and nervous system function and the formation of blood. Getting too little B12 can lead to anemia, which can cause you to feel tired and weak. Vitamin B12 deficiency may cause skin numbness and tingling, as well as increase your risk of poor mental health, decreased cognitive function, and impaired coordination. For men and women over the age of 14, the recommended intake of vitamin B12 is 2.4 mcg per day. A serving of tuna,  salmon, or fortified breakfast cereal fills this requirement.

Vitamin B2: Vitamin B2 also called riboflavin, helps with energy production at the cellular level. Specifically, it processes nutrients in the cardiovascular system and keeps cells in good health. While both cow’s and goat’s milk are significant sources of vitamin B2, some non-dairy sources of the vitamin include mushrooms, meats, spinach, soy, nuts, and eggs.

Vitamin D: This important vitamin is linked to several beneficial health outcomes. Inadequate calcium and vitamin D intake can decrease bone strength and may lead to stress fractures, breaks, and osteoporosis. While very few foods naturally contain vitamin D, almost all of the U.S. milk supply is fortified with 100 IU per cup (the recommended dietary allowance for vitamin D is 600 IU for men and women ages 14-70 years). However, other dairy products, such as cheese and ice cream, are generally not fortified with vitamin D. The good news is that you can find many fortified brands of ready-to-eat breakfast foods, orange juice, and other processed foods.

Protein: Dietary protein is broken down into amino acids that assist with everything from digesting food to repairing body tissue in the body. In addition to carbohydrates and fat, protein is another source of energy for your body to burn, providing 4 calories per gram. While all dairy products are good sources of protein, there are lots of other foods that contain this essential nutrient! If you don’t eat dairy or animal products, make sure that you are getting enough protein from beans, or soy!

Should I take a dietary supplement?

Whether you should consider a supplement depends on the foods that you eat! If you’re concerned about getting too little of a specific nutrient as a result of a low lactose diet, get an InsideTracker blood analysis. Not only will InsideTracker tell you which nutrients you need, it might also save you a whole lot of money on multivitamins and supplements. If you are considering a dietary supplement, keep these pointers in mind:

Read the label on the bottle! Look for calcium supplements that have the “purified” or have the USP (United States Pharmacopeia) symbol. The “USP Verified Mark” means that the supplement has met certain standards for quality and purity. You also want to watch out for the words “elemental calcium”, which is the actual amount of calcium that the supplement contains. You should take calcium supplements with food. When you eat, your body produces stomach acid, which helps aid in the absorption of calcium. The one exception to this rule is calcium citrate, which can absorb well without the aid of food.

One thing to keep in mind is that oxalic acid, a naturally occurring component found in dark leafy foods, binds to calcium and inhibits its absorption by the body. So, if you’re taking a calcium supplement or are trying to increase your consumption of calcium-rich foods, try to limit your intake of foods such as spinach, parsley, and rhubarb. Conversely, taking a vitamin D supplement with foods containing calcium can increase the bioavailability of calcium in the body about six-fold—meaning that vitamin D can facilitate your body’s ability to absorb calcium.

You should also talk to your doctor before deciding to take a supplement. Some dietary supplements can interact with medications that you might be currently taking, so make sure that you and your doctor are in agreement about which supplements are right for your body.  With help from InsideTracker, you can maintain your low-lactose diet and make sure you are getting the nutrients that your body needs to stay healthy and perform at its peak!