Fortunately, lactose intolerance is not the same as milk intolerance. Lactase-less adults can consume about a cup/250 ml of milk per day without severe symptoms, and even more of other dairy products. Cheese contains little or no lactose (most of it is drawn off in the whey, and what little remains in the curd is fermented by bacteria and molds).
The bacteria in yogurt generate lactose-digesting enzymes that remain active in the human small intestine and work for us there. And lactose-intolerant milk fans can now buy the lactose-digesting enzyme itself in liquid form (it’s manufactured from a fungus, Aspergillus), and add a few drops to any dairy product just before they consume it.
Milk has been especially valued for two nutritional characteristics: its richness in calcium, and both the quantity and quality of its protein. Recent research has raised some fascinating questions about each of these. Our bones are constructed from two primary materials: proteins, which form a kind of scaffolding, and calcium phosphate, which acts as a hard, mineralized, strengthening filler. Bone tissue is constantly being deconstructed and rebuilt throughout our adult lives, so healthy bones require adequate protein and calcium supplies from our diet.
Many women in industrialized countries lose so much bone mass after menopause that they’re at high risk for serious fractures. Dietary calcium clearly helps prevent this potentially dangerous loss, or osteoporosis. Milk and dairy products are the major source of calcium in dairying countries, and U.S. government panels have recommended that adults consume the equivalent of a quart (liter) of milk daily to prevent osteoporosis.
This recommendation represents an extraordinary concentration of a single food, and an unnatural one — remember that the ability to drink milk in adulthood, and the habit of doing so, is an aberration limited to people of northern European descent. A quart of milk supplies two-thirds of a day’s recommended protein, and would displace from the diet other foods — vegetables, fruits, grains, meats, and fish — that provide their own important nutritional benefits.
And there clearly must be other ways of maintaining healthy bones. Other countries, including China and Japan, suffer much lower fracture rates than the United States and milk-loving Scandinavia, despite the fact that their people drink little or no milk
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