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updated: 5/3/2011 11:11 AM

Are you getting the calcium you need?

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  • If you've shunned lactose in the past, Berry Good Yogurt Parfait is a tasty way to start building up your tolerance.

    If you've shunned lactose in the past, Berry Good Yogurt Parfait is a tasty way to start building up your tolerance.
    Courtesy of Mary Ekern


Bloating? Gas? Those results are enough to keep people who are lactose intolerant away from what they really need -- calcium.

Being lactose intolerant means your body does not easily digest the sugar -- lactose -- found in dairy products. That category certainly includes a broad spectrum of foods.

Because most lactose intolerance is not doctor-diagnosed but self-reported, numbers from the National Institutes of Health may underestimate the amount of people who are truly lactose intolerant. Nevertheless, those who believe they are lactose intolerant are doing a good job of avoiding milk products; so good in fact that just 4 percent of them get enough calcium in their diets.

That's unfortunate because calcium plays a significant role in the overall prevention and treatment of osteoporosis in women and men. So instead of avoiding dairy all together, those with the intolerance should consume calcium either from low-fat dairy products or calcium-rich dairy alternatives to help avoid future bone fractures and breaks.

To maintain bone health the Institutes of Medicine recommends women ages 19-50 and men 50-71 consume 1,000 milligrams, or three servings, of a low-fat dairy product each day. Women 51 and older and men 71 and older need 1,200 milligrams, or four servings, of a low-fat dairy source each day.

Here are four tips to boost calcium consumption without gastro-intestinal discomfort.

• Drink fat-free or low-fat lactose-free milk to receive the same nutritional benefits without the lactose. Soy milk is another choice, but check the nutrition facts to assure you are buying a product that contains 30 percent calcium per serving.

• Sprinkle some shredded cheese on top of soup, salads or vegetables. Cheddar, Colby, Monterey Jack, mozzarella and Swiss have low lactose content.

• Snack on yogurt. The live active cultures in yogurt help to digest lactose.

• Build your lactose tolerance by gradually adding milk back into your diet and do so by combining it with a meal versus drinking it alone. Start with a small amount, such as to cup, and gradually increase according to your tolerance.

Our bodies lose calcium each day, so we need to feed our bones each day. This Berry Good Yogurt Parfait is a good place to start.

Toby Smithson is a registered dietitian with the Lake County Health Department/Community Health Center and a national spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association.