A Little More Each Day

One working mama learning to run & to maintain my 100+ pound weight loss!

Back to Basics: Good Health Dairy Guidelines & Lactose Intolerance

on September 19, 2013

As part of Brooke’s Back to Basics challenge, each week we focus on one of the core tenets of healthy lifestyle changes. This week, it is Weight Watcher’s Good Health Guidelines, which are generally speaking common sense, healthy diet guidelines. Eat your fruits and veggies. Drink water. Get some dairy. Yada yada yada.


It’s the last one that is a problem for me: Dairy. I am lactose intolerant, and as is true with lots of people who are lactose intolerant (as opposed to milk allergy – different thing), it gets worse as I get older. That presents a real problem when it comes to meeting the specific Weight Watchers guidelines for dairy, which means I am really not good at “checking” that box.

Lactose tolerance is very common, reported in 7-20% of Caucasian adults in the United States and Europe. It’s incidence is even higher in certain ethnic groups, particularly Native Americans (80-95%), African Americans (65-75%) and Hispanics (50%). With my Native American background, I was apparently genetically doomed. Lactose intolerance caused by a decrease in intestinal lactase and presents as diarrhea, abdominal pain and flatulence after ingesting milk or milk-containing products and the symptoms can vary from person to person, depending on how much lactase activity they have. I know for me, if I “accidentally” (ie forget how much milk is in something) have much milk, I end up with so much pain I contemplate going to the emergency room before I figure out that it was just milk. It’s at the point where I can’t even have a latte anymore without feeling it all day. Major sad face 😦 as that was my go-to reward for hauling myself to Weight Watchers on Saturday morning!

There are several different ways to deal with lactose intolerance, including avoiding milk products all together or trying to limit your dairy by either:

– Trying multiple small doses throughout the day (used to work for me, now does not)

– Trying dairy products that are naturally low lactose (yogurt with probiotics, aged cheeses)

– Trying dairy products with added lactase enzyme (ie the Lactaid branded milks, yogurts, etc)

I can still do yogurt, which is my mainstay source of dairy, and aged cheeses thankfully. I also keep some supplemental lactase capsules in my wallet in case I need them, although I’ve gotten sick often enough that I now don’t even really want to risk much dairy. I used to miss milkshakes (the first thing that became an absolute no-go for me, lactose-wise) but now don’t even want them because I know how sick it makes me. Sad, I know. Other good dietary sources of calcium include almonds, almond milk, leafy green vegetables, broccoli, calcium-fortified foods (breads, juices, tofu, soy milk) and canned salmon/sardines.

While those things will help we lactose-intolerant folks get the calcium in our diet that dairy provides so efficiently, they don’t all meet the Weight Watchers good health guidelines. According the Weight Watchers, more goes into what their diet gurus considered as a dairy serving than just calcium, including protein, riboflavin, vitamin D, zinc, potassium and vitamin B12. Honestly, I think if I’m taking multivitamin like I should (another Good Health Guideline) and more importantly, eating an otherwise healthy diet with lean proteins and lots of fruits and veggies, what I really need from dairy is calcium. Thus, I pretty much ignore this particular good health guideline and focus on getting in other sources of calcium (like leafy greens, broccoli, canned salmon, almond milk, etc) and having an otherwise well balanced for the other nutrients. I’m particularly a big fan of almond milk, which has a ton of calcium (more than some milk products) but it doesn’t make the WW approved “dairy substitute” list. I’m okay with that as I’m more concerned with a healthy lifestyle than with being a good Weight Watcher. 🙂

One thing to keep in mind is that it is always best to get as much of your daily calcium (and other nutrient needs) through a varied and healthy diet rather than relying on supplements. There has been a lot of recent concern that oral calcium supplements, while they have been shown to decrease hip fractures in women with osteoporosis and may decrease the risks of osteoporosis, may be associated with an increase in heart disease. This is a concern because calcium, chemically, is an important molecule in electrical communication between our cells and sudden spikes in your calcium level in  your blood stream (like when you took a calcium pill) could alter those communications. This hasn’t been well proven yet, but is enough of a concern that you should definitely try to get more calcium in the foods you eat rather than relying on your little pill.

Which of the good health guidelines do you struggle with the most?

Brooke: Not on a Diet

Sources for further reading:

Weight Watchers “Milk Matters” http://www.weightwatchers.com/util/art/index_art.aspx?tabnum=1&art_id=43141&sc=3002

http://www.uptodate.com – Lactose Intolerance

Women’s Running Milk Alternatives for runners

Bolland MJ, et al. “Calcium Supplements with or without Vitamin D and risk of cardiovascular events: reanalysis of the Women’s Health Initiative limited access dataset and meta-analysis”. BMJ 2011 April 19; 342.

Bhattahcharya R, Reid IR and Bolland MJ. “Does Widespread Calcium Supplementation Pose Cardiovascular Risk?” American Family Physician 2013 February; 87(3).


2 responses to “Back to Basics: Good Health Dairy Guidelines & Lactose Intolerance

  1. This is where I disagree with following specific plans I guess. See you have wonderfully figured out that your body doesn’t do dairy and one side effect of a food allergy is it causes bloating and weight gain due to inflammation. SOooooo if you are getting your calcium then it’s silly to need to check a box to be on track. You are doing the right thing by figuring our your body!

    • I’m grateful that Weight Watchers gave me a framework for losing weight, but I agree some of their directives I just don’t follow because I have made other choices that fit my personal health issues. People need to be wary of following any diet blindly. Definitely we all need to educate ourselves!

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