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Fifty percent of North Americans are lactose intolerant. They lack the enzyme to split the double sugar, lactose, found in milk and other dairy products. Since you can only absorb single sugars, if you can't split the double sugar, it passes to your large intestine where it is attacked by bacteria and fermented, causing gas and cramping. Some people deal with this by adding the lactase enzyme to their diet.

You can eliminate all dairy products and still have a perfectly healthy diet. Yes, milk is a good source of calcium, vitamin D, protein and other nutrients, but it is far from essential. You can get all the calcium you need from a variety of other foods.

Many doctors, dieticians and vegetarians oppose the use of dairy products, and back their position with extensive research data. Check the Physicians Committee for Responsible Nutrition web site,, for some interesting articles and journal references.

You can get plenty of calcium in your diet if you include lots of leafy green vegetables, a wide variety of beans and whole grains, and perhaps fortified products such as soy milk, cereals and juices. The RDA for calcium ranges from 800mg for young children to 1500mg for older people and pregnant or nursing women. If you're not sure you are getting that amount in your diet, it won't hurt to take a calcium supplement (see report #7585, Picking the best calcium supplement), or to eat calcium-added foods such as fortified cereals, orange juice or soy milk.

Calcium content of typical beans, vegetables and fruits
(Portion size is 1 cup, cooked, unless otherwise noted):

Black beans - 103 mg
Chick peas - 80 mg
Pinto beans - 82 mg
Soybeans - 175 mg
White beans - 161 mg
Broccoli - 94 mg
Collard greens - 358 mg
Spinach - 244 mg
Swiss chard - 102 mg
Dried figs (10)- 269 mg
Orange (1) - 56 mg
Raisins - (2/3 cup) - 53 mg
Tofu (½ cup) - 258 mg.)

From Pennington, JAT, Bowes and Churches Food Values of Portions Commonly Used, New York, Lippincott, 1998.

Checked 5/3/07

May 12th, 2013
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About the Author: Gabe Mirkin, MD

Sports medicine doctor, fitness guru and long-time radio host Gabe Mirkin, M.D., brings you news and tips for your healthful lifestyle. A practicing physician for more than 50 years and a radio talk show host for 25 years, Dr. Mirkin is a graduate of Harvard University and Baylor University College of Medicine. He is board-certified in four specialties: Sports Medicine, Allergy and Immunology, Pediatrics and Pediatric Immunology. The Dr. Mirkin Show, his call-in show on fitness and health, was syndicated in more than 120 cities. Read More
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