12 year old allergic to dairy protein

I have a 12 year old son who is allergic to dairy products. His pediatrician has told us that it is the "protein" in the dairy products and not the lactose, which is a more common allergy. What can I do to ensure that he receives enough calcium in his diet. We do serve a lot of broccoli, but I read somewhere once that chicken offsets the advantages of broccoli if they are served together.


Sue Gilbert

Sue Gilbert works as a consulting nutritionist. For many years she worked with Earth's Best Organic Baby Food, integrating nutrition and... Read more

Dear Elizabeth,

The following information has been compiled by Kelly Williams, Senior Dietetic Student, University of Vermont

Along with eggs and peanuts, milk is one of the most common foods to which kids are allergic. You're right, it is a very important time in your son's life where it is critical he takes in an adequate amount of calcium to keep his growing bones strong. This may seem to be a very difficult thing to do when he has allergic reactions to milk. However, it is not impossible.

Your pediatrician was right when he said the protein in milk, casein, is a more common allergy than lactose. In regards to lactose, the most common problem is called lactose intolerance. This is not really an allergic reaction. We have enzymes in our small intestine which help break down the nutrients in our foods, such as carbohydrates, which lactose is. The enzyme specific for lactose is called lactase. When a person is lactose intolerant, they are deficient of lactase and therefore, are unable to digest lactose. As a result, the lactose passes on through the digestive system to the colon where bacteria act on the lactose. A person can become bloated and suffer from gas and diarrhea. This can be almost as uncomfortable as an allergic reaction, but not nearly as life threatening.

Some substitutes your son may have to replace calcium rich milk are: fortified soy milk; dark green leafy vegetables, such as broccoli and spinach; dried peas and beans (cooked), tofu, and canned salmon. If our son doesn't like some of these foods by themselves, try to incorporate them into mixed dishes to hide their flavor or consistency. Some baking substitutions for milk could be soy milk, fruit juice, liquid nondairy creamer, or water. Keep in mind, though, these substitutions could change the flavor or consistency of the end product.

One important fact to keep in mind is that milk protein may be in foods that you probably wouldn't expect. Some examples are hot dogs, canned tuna, and some nondairy products. The important thing is to read the ingredients label; if milk protein is present in the food, it should be listed.

As for your concern about eating chicken with broccoli, I wouldn't be too worried. This may have been said because calcium absorption may be decreased in the presence of high amounts of protein, fat, zinc, and iron. All of these are present in chicken in good amounts. However, calcium is usually consumed in mixed meals where these nutrients are usually present, so it is almost inevitable that calcium absorption will never be one hundred percent. Calcium absorption is enhanced by the presence of vitamin D. Most of our vitamin D is made in our skin from contact with the sun. Some good dietary sources, though, are foods of animal origin, such as eggs, butter, and meat, especially liver. You could try to have your son eat combinations of foods high in calcium and vitamin D.

I usually don't recommend supplements, but this is a case where they may be necessary. It is imperative your son get an adequate amount of calcium during this time of his life. For supplements, it would be best to specifically use calcium supplements; do not use Tums or Rolaids. Those are for indigestion problems; only use them if your son suffers from heartburn.

Some children do eventually grow out of their allergies, so things may seem tough now, but they may get better in the future. If he doesn't grow out of his allergy, he will have at least learned to adapt to his situation.

Good luck with everything and take care!


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