Monday, August 11, 2008

Does Cheese Really Bind Up Your Digestive System?

Q: Do certain foods like cheese really bind up your digestive system, or is that just a story?

Cheese, and for that matter, dairy products, have gotten a bad rap lately with the common misconception that they “bind you up” and are generally unhealthy. The fact is, dairy is the leading source of bone-building calcium in the American diet and most Americans simply are not consuming enough dairy. This is a huge health concern, particularly for our children, because a lack of sufficient calcium in the diet during the crucial bone-building years—the teens and young adulthood—will result in failure to reach peak bone mass, which could predispose them to contracting osteoporosis later in life.

What’s more, calcium helps lower blood pressure, as shown in the famous DASH diet studies. Dairy contains lots more nutrition than just calcium. Filled with vitamin D (if fortified), vitamin A, riboflavin, B12 and protein, dairy is truly a nutrient-dense food. Most major health organizations recommend that all Americans consume three serving of dairy foods per day. I suggest going for the 1% or fat-free varieties to cut out the artery-clogging saturated fat that comes bundled up with full-fat dairy foods.

Certain people cannot consume dairy products because of a situation called “lactose intolerance.” These people either lack or have a reduced activity of the enzyme lactase, required to digest the milk sugar lactose. For these individuals, consuming dairy products can result in severe gastrointestinal symptoms. Lactose-intolerant individuals should know there are plenty of lactose-free dairy products on the market, as well as lactase supplements that would enable them to obtain nutritious dairy foods in their diet.

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