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You once could enjoy a double-scoop of chocolate ice cream, or a cheesy slice of pizza—but those days are long gone. If you’re lactose intolerant, you know what it’s like to have the once enjoyable dairy group turned into an ominous symptom-producing array of forgotten pleasures. Lactose intolerance is a condition that generally develops as you age, characterized by a lack of the enzyme lactase in the digestive process. Lactase breaks down the sugar present in milk and dairy products, lactose. Without it, the process of digesting lactose becomes painful, inducing such symptoms as nausea, cramping, bloating, gas and diarrhea within a few hours.

The good news about lactose intolerance is it’s not the same thing as a food allergy. And that means you might just be able to enjoy small amounts of dairy throughout the day. You’ll need to seek out certain dairy products that contain limited amounts of lactose, such as Swiss and cheddar cheese or yogurt with cultures. Not only is this good news if you enjoy dairy products, but it’s also good news for your calcium intake. Some people take lactase enzyme pills before they plan to eat dairy in order to ease the digestion process. Most lactose intolerants can consume small amounts of dairy throughout the day. Others choose to avoid dairy altogether for fear of the painful and embarrassing symptoms. Either way, you’ll need to compensate for the lack of calcium in your diet, especially for your bone health. This means seeking out alternative sources of calcium such as almonds and dark, leafy greens, beans and tofu. You might also talk to your healthcare provider about taking a calcium supplement to ensure you get the proper amount of calcium in your diet for your bones.

The recommended daily allowance for calcium in woman between the ages of 19 and 50 is 1,000 mcg. This increases after age 50 to 1,200 or more. Milk products are also good sources of vitamin D, so you might want a supplement with vitamin D, or make sure you have enough alternative sources such as broccoli and soy products in your diet. Many alternative milks, such as rice and soy milk provide beneficial nutrients and can allow you to enjoy cereal, coffee or a tall glass of milk without digestion hassles.

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