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How to Achieve Calcium Balance Without Dairy

by Wendy Fachon

Increasingly, people are searching for alternatives to milk and other dairy products to fulfill their daily nutrition requirements for calcium. A surprising number of people are lactose intolerant, and a growing number of others are expressing a preference for plant-based options they believe to be better for the planet than dairy products.

Lactose intolerance is caused by the lack of an enzyme in the small intestine, called lactase. This causes chronic digestive discomfort. Lactase splits lactose into glucose and galactose, which can be absorbed into the bloodstream. While virtually all infants and young children produce lactase enzymes, many adults do not. The Physician Committee for Responsible Medicine reports, “Prior to the mid-1960s, most American health professionals believed that these enzymes were present in nearly all adults as well. When researchers tested various ethnic groups for their ability to digest lactose, however, their findings proved otherwise. Approximately 70 percent of African-Americans, 90 percent of Asian-Americans, 53 percent of Mexican-Americans, and 74 percent of Native Americans were lactose intolerant.”

Traditionally, these ethnic groups have derived their calcium from a diet of beans and vegetables. Green leafy vegetables such as broccoli, kale and collards, are rich in a form of calcium with an absorption rate as good or better than that of milk. In addition, leafy greens are an excellent source of phytochemicals and antioxidants, while containing little fat, no cholesterol and no animal proteins.

Just as important as calcium absorption is calcium depletion. Research shows that calcium losses are increased by the consumption of animal protein, salt and caffeine, as well as tobacco use and physical inactivity. Animal protein has been shown to actually leach calcium from the bones. This does not necessarily mean people should stop eating animal protein; however, this might suggest moderation and a shift toward more plant-based foods.

All of this research is inspiring product innovation. One emerging market leader is Rhode-Island-based GO VEGGIE, which offers a variety of alternative products to satisfy the cheese-lover’s craving. Lactose-free, GMO-free and vegan items include a grated parmesan style topping, mozzarella or Mexican style shreds, and flavored cream cheese alternatives that can be used in cooking and baking.

Look for GO VEGGIE in the refrigerated section of the veggie department. Visit GoVeggiefoods.com/kitchen for cheesy lactose-free recipes.

Wendy Fachon is a regular contributor to Natural Awakenings.