Living life without cheese is not something most of us want to do. But when you are lactose intolerant, including cheese in your daily diet isn’t an option — or is it? Think of lactose as “cheese sugar.” If you are lactose intolerant, you don’t want to eat any kind of cheese that has a high amount of sugar, basically 5 grams or more per serving.
Luckily, there are many cheese options with a low level of sugar, which means they are a dairy product that lactose intolerant individuals actually can enjoy.
What Cheese Can You Eat When You Are Lactose Intolerant?
The fresher the cheese, the more lactose. So, the best kinds to eat when you are lactose intolerant are aged, harder cheeses (Parmesan, Swiss) because portions of the lactose turn into less harmful lactic acid during the aging process. Some of the lactose is also separated and drained off with the whey.
If you are lactose intolerant you can also enjoy a serving of fresh, unripened cheese (mozzarella, cream cheese) because part of the lactose converts to lactic acid.
When a serving of cheese has less than 5 grams of sugar, that means it is at or below the 2 to 3 percent lactose range, making it okay for lactose intolerant individuals to include it in their diet. Just remember not to overdo it.
A semi-soft cheese with a pale color and orange rind, when aged it develops a pungent aroma and strong flavor. You can serve it as an appetizer on a cheese plate, and because it melts well you can use it for grilled cheese, pizza, quesadillas, macaroni and cheese, and cheeseburgers.
This soft, creamy cheese is best served at room temperature with crackers or bread and a schmear. It also goes great on a salad with apples and nuts, or you can melt it for mac and cheese.
Another cheese served best at room temperature, this cheese goes well with fruit, nuts, or bread, and pairs well with champagne and certain types of wine.
One of the most popular cheeses in America, you can add cheddar to your burger, breakfast sandwich, or baked potato — anything you want — even when you are lactose intolerant.
Don’t be afraid to eat that slice of pizza or enjoy your mom’s lasagna recipe that is loaded with mozzarella. The lactose levels in this cheese are low enough for anyone to eat.
This hard, sweet cheese goes best with sweet fruit and whole grain bread. Pair it with a fruity wine or a caramel flavor beer for a tasty appetizer.
Add provolone to a baked pasta dish, on top of pizza, in a casserole, or on a sandwich. The aged version has a nutty, salty flavor that goes well with olives and roasted red peppers.
This cheese is a must in any kitchen because it can add so much to so many different recipes. This low-calorie, high-protein cheese adds flavor to everything from rice to seafood, and anything Italian.
If you are lactose intolerant, but have a craving for fondue, you are in luck. All it takes is melting Swiss cheese along with white wine and gruyere (another low-lactose cheese), some flour, and seasonings, and then you can get to dipping.
Cream Cheese 0-3%
Don’t be afraid to grab a bagel for breakfast in the morning, and then add some cream cheese. Whether plain or flavored, you can have this treat even if you are lactose intolerant.
There is also a company called Green Valley Creamery that has a line of lactose-free dairy products that includes cream cheese, cottage cheese, yogurt, kefir, and sour cream. Other brands of lactose-free dairy products include Cabot and GoVeggie.
Being able to consume different cheeses will allow lactose intolerant individuals to get a good source of protein and fat (two of the three macronutrients), without sugar or symptoms of discomfort. Even if you are lactose intolerant, these dairy items are low enough in lactose that you can still enjoy them.
Cheese You Should Avoid
If you are lactose intolerant, you should avoid American cheese — especially the pasteurized processed kind — because it has lactose percentage levels as high as 14 percent. Other cheeses with high sugar levels include
- Colby (up to 5%)
- Feta (4%)
- Velveeta (9%).
Even though you or a family member might be lactose intolerant, it doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy some dairy products. However, there are some who can’t tolerate any amount of lactose without discomfort, so always use caution. Start with a small portion of foods that are low in lactose and see how you feel.
If you are nervous about trying them out on your own, make an appointment with your gastroenterologist. He or she can give you a lactose intolerance test to see just how severe your condition is, and also give you an idea of what kind of dairy you can safely add to your diet.
What Causes Lactose Intolerance?
Lactose is the main sugar in milk and other dairy products, and when you are lactose intolerant, that means your body can’t digest it well. So, after you eat a bowl of cereal, an ice cream treat, or a piece of cheese — or after you drink a glass of milk — you will possibly start to feel symptoms like stomach cramps, painful gas, nausea, bloating, or diarrhea.
According to WebMD, these symptoms usually appear about 30 minutes to two hours after eating dairy, and they can be mild or severe.
It is not just dairy products that contain lactose. Foods with milk byproducts like cereal, bread, baked goods, candy, and salad dressings can also have lactose. And, there are medications that have lactose like birth control pills and antacids.
Lactose intolerance occurs when your small intestine doesn’t make enough lactase, the enzyme that digests lactose. When you don’t digest lactose, it makes gas in your colon, and that is what causes symptoms.
For some people, lactose intolerance develops with age as their body starts making less lactase, and for others, it can occur because of an injury or digestive problems like celiac or Crohn’s disease.
Lactose intolerance is quite common around the world, with 65 percent of the population having trouble digesting lactose, and millions of Americans deal with the condition. You are more likely to have it if you are African-American, Hispanic, Asian, or Native American.