People may avoid milk and other dairy products due to concerns about lactose intolerance, but eliminating these nutrient-rich foods may not only be unnecessary to manage the condition – it could impact diet and health, concludes a panel of experts assembled by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
"With modern diets, eliminating dairy from the diet – for any reason whatsoever – will result in poor nutrition with long-term consequences for health,” says Dr. Robert P. Heaney, a prominent researcher at Creighton University who presented findings to the NIH panel on the health outcomes of dairy exclusion diets.
Heaney says people need a steady supply of calcium, vitamin D and other bone-building nutrients in milk early in life to lay a sturdy foundation. Depriving the body of these nutrients has the potential to impact bone health throughout the lifecycle. Additionally, lowfat and fat free milk is the top food source of vitamin D, which has been linked to a growing range of health benefits.
African Americans have been found to have lower intakes of vitamin D, which is likely linked, in part, to their concerns about lactose intolerance. Yet, even if you have lactose intolerance – and fewer people likely have symptoms of this condition than previously believed – it's still important to find ways to incorporate milk and milk products into the diet.
This is the same conclusion made by the National Medical Association (NMA), the nation's largest group of African American physicians. Dr. Wilma Wooten, president of the San Diego chapter of the National Medical Association, presented research on the ethnic prevalence of lactose intolerance to the panel. She says the NMA released its own policy statement that alerted African-Americans that they may be at risk for nutrient deficits as a result of under-consumption of dairy foods.
"Individuals with lactose intolerance should not avoid dairy products,” Wooten says. "This message should be reinforced to prevent the missed opportunity provided by the nutrient-rich package of low- and non-fat milk, hard cheese and yogurt with live active cultures.”