What typically comes to mind when we think of lactose is dairy. So if we have to avoid lactose we tend to think that means no milk, yoghurt, and cheese. Now I love some crumbled feta on my salads, and when I picture a social gathering a quality cheese board is a given. If you are the same, then I have good news!
So what exactly is lactose?
Lactose is a type of sugar, and is the FODMAP found in dairy products. Dairy can trigger IBS symptoms in some people, as they can’t absorb the lactose contained in dairy products. Our stomachs contain the enzyme (protein) lactase, which is responsible for breaking down lactose for normal absorption.
People commonly can’t tolerate lactose due to a lack of the enzyme lactase. Without enough lactase our body cannot breakdown lactose from dairy products, so it can’t be absorbed. This malabsorption usually causes symptoms such as diarrhoea, bloating, wind, and stomach cramps.
Is lactose in all dairy products?
Now here comes the good news! During the processing of dairy products such as cheese and yoghurt, fermentation occurs. This is where some of the lactose gets converted to lactic acid, removing much of the lactose.
So which cheeses are a safe option?
Hard cheeses such as cheddar, parmesan, swiss and gouda are low-lactose or lactose-free. Aged or ‘ripened’ cheeses are often virtually lactose-free. Any cheese can be aged/ripened and commonly include brie, camembert, cheddar, and feta.
Which cheeses should I avoid?
If lactose doesn’t agree with you, then be wary of cheeses containing moderate amounts of lactose. Cheeses with a moderate lactose content include cream cheese, ricotta, haloumi, and mascarpone. Some of these may be tolerated in small amounts, such as 1-2 tablespoons of ricotta.
What to look out for when choosing a cheese
There are a few things you can look for when strolling down the cheese aisle:
- Look at the ‘sugars’ column on the nutrition information panel of the cheese packet. Lactose is milk sugar, so any lactose will be declared in this line. If the sugar column is 0g, then the cheese is lactose-free or very low-lactose. When doing this, check the ingredients list for added sugars (although sugar isn’t usually added to cheese products). If there does happen to be added sugar, this would appear in the ‘sugars’ column and make it hard to distinguish the lactose content.
- Go for cheese labelled as matured, ripened, cultured, vintage, or aged. These generally contain little to no lactose.
- If approaching the cheese plate at a function and in doubt, the hard cheese is usually the safest bet.
Don’t go cheese crazy
Even if a cheese is low in lactose, a large quantity may contain enough to upset your stomach. Cheese is high in fat, and too much fat can also trigger IBS symptoms. A good serving size is 2 squares of thinly sliced cheese (40g), a small wedge of camembert or brie, or 5 bite-sized cubes of fetta or hard cheese.
What about lactose and other dairy products?
Like with cheese, during the processing of yoghurt a lot of the lactose is converted into lactic acid. If you’re only mildly intolerant to lactose, then you might be able to tolerate regular yoghurt with no problems. If normal yoghurt doesn’t agree with you, there are some great lactose-free yoghurts available. Be careful when reading the ingredients list, as some yoghurts contain inulin, which is not FODMAP-friendly.
If you can’t tolerate lactose it is best to steer clear of regular milk. Some great alternatives include lactose-free milk and almond milk.
You can also purchase tablets from the chemist which contain the lactase enzyme. These are designed to be taken before eating lactose, and may come in handy as a back-up option if you find they work for you.
Start feeling better now! By signing up to The FODMAP Challenge you will receive meal plans, recipe ideas, and regular support with other resources, such as a private Facebook group, to make this as easy for you as possible.