Self-Care Challenge (Day 92): Eating Fermented Dairy Products

On day 92 of my 366-day self-care challenge, I indulged in a delightful fermented dairy product.

The mere thought of yogurt used to make my stomach turn, although I’m not exactly why. Puddings and pies have similar textures, but I’ve never had an issue with either of them. Perhaps it had something to do with the flavor – which brings me to my latest obsession: Ellenos Lemon Curd yogurt.

Now, I’m a huge fan of key lime pie. And when I say huge, I mean it’s my absolute favorite dessert. But I purposely don’t keep it around very often because I end up eating way too much of it. And a steady diet of sugary foods isn’t healthy by a longshot.

But this recent lemon curd discovery has been exciting for me because it’s a much healthier version of key lime pie.

A single serving contains 212 calories, 10 grams of protein, 18 grams of carbohydrate, 61 milligrams of sodium, 10 grams of fat and 7 milligrams of cholesterol. And at 11% of the daily value (DV) for calcium, it comes in at about 110 mg (which isn’t bad for a 4-oz serving).

In addition to providing calcium, fermented dairy products like yogurt also contain active cultures – the living bacteria in our gut that provides us with health benefits.

Even so, not everyone tolerates dairy products the same way. 70% of the world’s population experiences hypolactasia, a decline in the naturally occurring enzyme lactase, which is responsible for the digestion of lactose (the disaccharide found in dairy products). Symptoms of lactose maldigestion, the scientific term for lactose intolerance, include bloating, gas, flatulence, and diarrhea. None are pleasant.

Some have argued that this natural decline in lactase is an indication that humans should not continue to consume dairy products into adulthood, but we should first carefully consider the reason for the decline before reaching that conclusion.

Lactase levels are highest at birth, which makes sense if you consider that infants are dependent solely on milk for nutrition. These levels begin to decline, though, in the first few months after birth, and the decline continues as solid foods are introduced. It also makes sense that as lower amounts of lactose are being introduced for digestion, lower levels of the enzyme are needed.

What’s interesting about lactase is that in some regions of the world – specifically in northern Europe, where dairy farming originated, and where traditional diets still include higher amounts of dairy – higher levels of lactase enzymes are common.

In fact, lactose intolerance in these populations is quite rare. So, what does this mean for the rest of us exactly? Well, there are several theories, but one is that our lactase levels are directly proportionate to the amounts ingested. The more dairy we consume, the more lactase enzymes we retain.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the American Heart Association, and the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet all recommend including about three servings of low-fat or non-fat dairy each day.

One thing is clear: When it comes to our eating choices, we’re the ones who get to choose what is right for us.

And while plant-based sources of calcium can also provide adequate calcium, I’ve come to enjoy the many benefits of fermented dairy products. (And it certainly doesn’t hurt if they happen to taste like key lime pie.)

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