Lactose intolerance is often a misunderstood condition. Lactose intolerance occurs when you have a lower level of the enzyme lactase, which is needed to digest milk sugar.
Many African-Americans are avoiding dairy, particularly milk, because they think they are lactose intolerant. Usually, the notion of lactose intolerance and avoiding dairy comes from dietary habits learned early in life. As a result, African-Americans are missing out on the many health benefits milk products offer. For example, there is a growing body of evidence that suggests dairy may play a role in reducing the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and colon cancer. The National Medical Association, the nation’s oldest and largest organization of African-American physicians, recommends that African Americans consume 3-4 servings of low-fat dairy per day.
The good news is that lactose intolerance is not an all-or-nothing condition. It’s a matter of degree. What you self diagnose as lactose intolerance is more closely related to lactose maldigestion —a condition that about 75 percent of all African-Americans have. But, by following a few simple strategies, you can take dairy foods daily and get all the health benefits without all the suffering.
Try these “Eight Great Tips For Tolerance” to help get your 3–4 recommended servings daily (for health purposes, select low fat or fat free dairy products).
1. Start small. Don’t try to drink a glass of milk at one time. Begin with a small portion and slowly increase the serving size. For example, add a small amount of low fat milk to your coffee or hot chocolate.
2. Spread it out. Have small portions of dairy spread throughout the day. Add low-fat milk to your scrambled eggs or make grits with low-fat milk instead of water. Wrap beans and low-fat cheese in a tortilla for lunch; add a little shredded cheese to your salad.
3. Pair the dairy. Drink milk with meals instead of on an empty stomach. Solid foods slow digestion and allow your body more time to digest the lactose, which helps prevent symptoms.
4. Say cheese. When milk is made into cheese, most of the lactose is removed. Aged hard cheeses, such as cheddar, colby, Swiss and Parmesan, are particularly low in lactose. Add low-fat cheddar to your favorite cornbread recipe or serve rice and beans with colby.
5. Get a little culture. Cultured dairy products, such as yogurt with live active cultures, contain “friendly” bacteria that help digest lactose. Incorporate non-fat yogurt into a refreshing mango-and banana smoothie for a great-tasting way to start the day.
6. Reduce it. Look for lactose-free or lactose-reduced milk in the dairy case. It tastes the same as regular milk. Or “spike” your milk with a few lactase enzyme drops that are available in most drug stores. That will reduce the lactose in the milk.
7. Make it easy. Buy dairy digestive supplements (lactase caplets) at your drug store. If you take the caplets before you eat dairy foods, they can help you digest lactose easily.
8. Go to the pros. See your doctor for a diagnosis of your symptoms. Then, talk to your doctor or consult with a registered dietitian to learn how you can incorporate dairy foods into your diet.
Source: The African American Guide To Living Well With Diabetes. New Page Books; July 2010