Does eliminating lactose reduce my risk for cancer?

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Updated 4/6/2016 10:59 AM

Q: Does a lactose-free diet play a role in reducing cancer risk?

A: For people who can't digest lactose, a naturally occurring sugar in milk, eating or drinking milk and other dairy products can lead to uncomfortable cramping and diarrhea. Overall, research shows no reduction in cancer risk by avoiding foods with lactose (dairy products). In fact, the latest report from the American Institute for Cancer Research analyzing the evidence links milk and calcium intake with lower risk of colorectal cancer.


There is some research linking consumption of dairy products with increased risk of prostate cancer, but the evidence here is not strong. A few studies have also linked high consumption of lactose with greater risk of ovarian cancer, but overall research does not show any clear link between lactose or dairy consumption and ovarian or other cancer. Limited animal research even shows possible protective effects of lactose for the colon.

The 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend 2-3 servings of dairy per day as part of an overall healthy eating plan. One serving equals 1 cup milk or yogurt or 1½ ounces natural cheese.

Following a vegan diet or avoiding lactose? Learn how to get calcium from plant sources.

Q: How do lentils compare nutritionally to dried beans like kidney beans, black beans and chickpeas?

A: Like all pulses (a term that includes dried beans, dried peas and lentils) lentils are a great source of fiber. Just a half-cup of cooked lentils provides nearly as much fiber as two cups of cooked oatmeal, and much of it is the type of fiber that helps lower blood cholesterol. Iron and the B vitamin folate that is so important for maintaining healthy DNA are high in all pulses. As do other pulses, lentils provide both protein and health-protective phytochemicals like flavonoids. Lentils' easy preparation requires no soaking like other dried beans, so you can go from pantry to table in about 20 minutes. Pulses are similar in nutrition, but you can enjoy exploring the many types for a variety of flavors.

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Cook brown lentils until tender but not mushy, holding salt and any acid ingredients (such as lemon or tomatoes) until the end to avoid toughening the lentils and increasing cooking time. Brown lentils are part of renowned dishes all around the world. They can serve as a meat replacement or extender in your favorite stew, soup, chili, or rice- or vegetable-based mixed entree. The little red lentils and yellow lentils dissolve into sort of a purée, so they're great for thickening soups and stews, or mashed as in some Indian dal recipes.

You may also see French lentils, which are smaller than more common types, but these take longer to cook. French lentils retain their shape and firmness and add a peppery flavor, making them a great choice for salads. Whatever your choice, enjoy lentils as a quick and easy way to work more legumes into your eating habits.

Q: I'm well over 65, do I need to be doing strength-type training exercises?

A: Muscle-strengthening exercise is important for everyone of all ages, and it's definitely important for older adults. Strength training exercises play a big role in maintaining or rebuilding the muscle you need to carry out daily living activities and get around to participate in activities you enjoy. Loss of muscle is a common problem in older adults and a well-rounded exercise plan can help. Both aerobic exercise like walking and weight bearing exercise with resistance training can benefit bone density, help combat osteoporosis, and improve balance.

US government physical activity guidelines emphasize that all adults, including those over age 65, should do muscle-strengthening activities (such as lifting weights or using resistance bands) that involve all major muscle groups on two or more days a week. The six major muscle groups are chest, shoulders, arms, back, abdomen and legs. Of course, strength-building exercise must be appropriate for each individual, and older adults who have not done this type of exercise before or who are recovering from reduced activity during an illness need to be cautious not to overdo or choose types or movements that lead to injury. Begin and progress with strength-training exercises at a level appropriate for your health and fitness. Allow one or two days between exercise sessions for any particular muscle group.

To help you get started, experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Tufts University have developed a strength-training program for adults called Growing Stronger. You can follow this program on the interactive website (it includes animations for how to do the exercises) or download or order a booklet. For people of any age who have some sort of orthopedic or heart-related health issue, it's important to discuss what kinds of strength-training you should do with your physician.

• The American Institute for Cancer Research is the cancer charity that fosters research on the relationship of nutrition, physical activity and weight management to cancer risk, interprets the scientific literature and educates the public about the results.

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