A biochemical explanation of lactose intolerance: Lactose is a disaccharide sugar found in milk and dairy products. It must be converted into simple sugars in order to be digested. This conversion is dependent on the enzyme lactase to make it happen. If lactase is missing, the body cannot digest lactose and it putrefies in the intestinal tract where is causes symptoms of gas, bloating, diarrhea and sometimes nausea.
The long-term effects of lactose intolerance and dairy consumption can lead to more serious issues down the road and can even cause calcium loss from the bones. When lactose is not completely broken down, it ferments in the intestines and produces lactic acid. This lactic acid is absorbed in the bloodstream and binds to calcium and magnesium, making these minerals unavailable to the tissues.
Since calcium is the most abundant alkaline mineral in the body used to counteract acidity, the body uses the calcium in the bones as a buffer. The body will pull calcium out of the bones to neutralize the acidity. Over time this may result in a weakening of the bones and osteoporosis.
* Studies have shown that the countries that consume the most dairy have the highest rates of osteoporosis!
What about digestive enzymes?
Lactase enzymes are available at most health food and drugstores and may help with the digestion of dairy products, but should we really be taking them?
Most people stop producing lactase between early childhood and adolescence, which is why 70% of the world population is lactose intolerant.
Is it in our best interest to take a pill to digest a substance the body naturally wants to reject?
The long term effects of lactose intolerance can result in intestinal mucosal damage, which can prevent absorption of other nutrients, causing deficiencies and resulting in a weakened immune system. Milk is not necessarily the answer for obtaining enough calcium. We could focus on bone health through weight-bearing exercise, spending time in the sun to promote vitamin D production and getting calcium from plant sources by eating lots of fruit and vegetables!
Nut milks, being high in calcium and essential fatty acids are a good replacement for cow’s milk. Plenty of bioavailable sources of calcium, which also have an alkalizing effect on the body are found in dark leafy greens and a variety of nuts, seeds, beans and sea vegetables.
1 cup of cooked kale has the same amount of absorbable calcium as 1 cup cow’s milk.
The recommended daily allowance of calcium for adults 19-50 years is around 1, 1,000 to 1,200mg/day. The following breakfast example contains 486mg of calcium, which would provide 40.5% of the recommended daily intake in this one plant-based meal!
• ½ cup steel cut oats=24mg
• ½ cup of blackberries= 20mg
• 1 tbsp chia seeds= 65mg
• 1 cup almond milk= 300mg
• 1 tbsp maple syrup = 20mg
• ½ tbsp blackstrap molasses= 57mg
This meal is also high in fiber, protein, cancer-fighting antioxidants, vitamin E, magnesium, potassium and iron, just to name a few!
~ Sources of Calcium ~
Nut Butters (mg/calcium per 3oz portion)
Peanut butter = 15mg
Cashew butter = 36mg
Almond butter = 225mg
Sesame butter = 843mg
Vegetables (mg/calcium per 1 cup cooked or otherwise specified)
1 Medium carrot = 19mg
1 Avocado = 19 mg
Asparagus(6 spears) = 22mg
Watercress = 40mg
Peas = 44mg
Green beans = 59 mg
Broccoli = 70mg
Napa cabbage = 74mg
Okra = 100mg
Swiss chard = 102mg
Mustard greens = 104mg
Kale = 122mg
Bok Choy = 158mg
Beans & Rice (mg/calcium per ½ cup)
Brown rice = 23mg
Kidney beans = 50mg
Chickpeas = 80mg
Pinto beans = 82mg
Navy Beans = 128mg
Tofu = 258mg
Seaweed (mg/calcium per 3½ oz portions)
Agar = 54mg
Kelp = 68mg
Wakame = 150mg
To increase calcium absorption, it’s best to soak nuts and beans for at least a few hours before eating or cooking to deactivate enzyme inhibitors. The calcium in greens is also better absorbed when cooked, which neutralizes the oxalic acid.
* Things that interfere with calcium absorption: excess protein in the diet, high amounts of sodium, alcohol, phosphorous(found in pop and carbonated beverages), caffeine, antacids, smoking and stress!