By Alyssa Greenstein, R.D., LD/N
Milk and other dairy products have long been staples in the American diet. So much so, that June was named National Dairy Month, a time dedicated to celebrating nutrient-rich dairy foods and the farmers who produce them. Besides, imagine a big bowl of cereal in the morning or warm chocolate chip cookies before bed without the rich, creamy deliciousness of good old-fashioned milk?
Yet many people who may be lactose intolerant might feel compelled to forgo dairy altogether and as a result, miss out on the key nutrients found in dairy foods. Lactose intolerance is often mischaracterized as a condition that requires completely avoiding dairy consumption when, in fact, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Lactose intolerance is the body’s inability to digest lactose and the condition happens to be very manageable.
While they taste great, dairy foods are also nutrient powerhouses that can play a key role in maintaining a healthy diet when consumed as part of a balanced eating routine. Dairy delivers nine essential nutrients – protein, calcium, potassium, vitamin D, vitamin A, vitamin B12, riboflavin, phosphorus and niacin, and the nutritional benefits don’t stop there.
Milk is also the number one food source for vitamin D, calcium and potassium–three of the four nutrients the Dietary Guidelines for Americans indicates are under-consumed by both children and adults. Dairy foods are also associated with lower risk for high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes, and are linked to improved bone health in children.
It’s easy to see why incorporating dairy into your diet is important. Fortunately, all is not lost for the lactose-sensitive dairy lover. Lactose intolerance is very individualized and there are a number of ways to easily and confidently enjoy the great taste and health benefits of dairy.
Here are some tips to help make dairy consumption more enjoyable for those who may be lactose-sensitive.
- Did you know that aged, hard cheeses such as cheddar, Colby, Monterey Jack, Swiss and Parmesan contain little to no lactose? Try them on every day favorites like salads, sandwiches and breakfast items
- Give lactose-free dairy a try. Lactose-free milk, for instance, is the same as regular milk, minus the lactose. Lactose-free milk tastes great and also has the same unique package of nine essential nutrients that regular milk has. There are also lactose-free options for dairy products like ice cream and cottage cheese.
- Your sensitivity to lactose may only kick in once you’ve consumed a certain amount. Find out what your limit is. Start by adding small portions of milk, cheese and yogurt to other foods in your diet. Gradually increase the amount of dairy foods you consume over several days and weeks to find the amount that works with your tolerance.
- Traditional and Greek yogurt contain live and active cultures that help digest lactose. Top your yogurt with fruit and cereal to start your day with a parfait, or freeze it for a tasty summer treat.
- Consult with a registered dietitian or physician to determine if you are actually lactose intolerant. A proper diagnosis will help you avoid nutrient shortfalls resulting from dairy avoidance.
Learn more about lactose intolerance and find delicious recipes to help easily incorporate dairy into your diet at floridamilk.com.
Registered dietitian Alyssa Greenstein, R.D., LD/N, with Florida Dairy Farmers is the immediate past president of the Florida Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Greenstein has been with Florida Dairy Farmers for seven years and is currently the senior manager of nutrition affairs and communication. She provides timely and scientifically sound nutrition information to the media, medical professionals, dietitians, educators, consumers and others concerned about fostering a healthier society.