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Are You in Dairy Danger

Whether you're just not a dairy fan or you deal with lactose intolerance, here's what you need to know to make sure you're getting the nutrients you need.

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Dairy products are known for being a powerhouse for calcium. And that's important because calcium (with the help of vitamin D) helps strengthen bones to ward off osteoporosis. Calcium has also been linked to healthy muscle function, and dairy calcium helps with weight loss as part of a reduced-calorie diet.

Calcium needs vary by age – and still many Americans don't get their recommended amounts daily (1,000 milligrams [mg] for adults ages 19 to 50). A new study by the National Medical Association shows that most African-Americans eat only one daily serving of dairy. What can you do to increase your calcium intake, if needed?

Dairy Wary

Milk and dairy products pack, by far, the most potent calcium punch of all the food groups. Here's how to sneak them into your day deliciously.

Breakfast.

Flavor the milk on your cereal with a handful of fresh blueberries. Add milk instead of water to oatmeal, or mix chunky fruit or a few nuts into yogurt or cottage cheese. Calcium possibilities per cup:

  • Plain nonfat yogurt: 450 mg
  • Low-fat yogurt with fruit: 260 mg
  • Skim milk: 300 mg
  • Cottage cheese: 130 mg

Lunch and dinner.

Use plain yogurt instead of sour cream. Sprinkle a little cheese on pasta dishes and salads. Use milk when preparing soups and stews. Calcium possibilities per 1 ounce:

  • Swiss cheese: 220 mg
  • American cheese: 110 mg
  • Blue cheese: 150 mg
  • Cheddar cheese: 200 mg
  • Parmesan cheese: 310 mg

Snacks.

Make your hot cocoa with milk instead of water. Try flavored milk. And who doesn't love low-fat ice cream? Calcium possibilities:

  • 1% chocolate milk: 300 mg in 1 cup
  • Low-fat ice cream: 120 mg in a 1/2 cup

Lactose Intolerant

Between 30 and 50 million Americans are estimated to be lactose intolerant, unable to produce enough lactase (an enzyme) to break down lactose, the natural sugar present in milk, leading to symptoms such as gas and bloating after eating dairy. But there are options.

Small dairy doses.

Try drinking just an ounce or two of milk at mealtime or with other foods. If you're symptom free, gradually add a little more to your cup to see if you can increase your milk intake over time.

Lactase pills.

Over-the-counter lactase tablets or drops may offer help to make it easier to tolerate dairy. Follow package instructions.

Low-lactose dairy.

Hard cheeses like Cheddar and Swiss contain little lactose. Lactose-free milk and cheese, which contain all of the same nutrients as regular dairy, are available in most groceries.

Probiotics.

The active cultures found in some yogurts and foods such as kefir and buttermilk can help break down lactose and reduce symptoms.

Go beyond the cow.

If you've tried everything and still can't get more dairy into your diet, seek out other sources of calcium:
  • soymilk: 300 mg in 1 cup
  • Atlantic sardines: 325 mg in 3 ounces
  • calcium-fortified ready-to-eat cereals 200 to 1,000 mg in 1 ounce
  • frozen collard greens, cooked: 130 mg in 1/2 cup
  • frozen spinach, cooked: 145 mg in 1/2 cup
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