While there is a common misconception that a lactose intolerance diagnosis means you cannot have any milk products, in most cases this isn’t true, and many people can consume small amounts of lactose with no problems.
Certain cheeses have relatively low lactose content and can be digested without trouble even by sensitive stomachs. This is because most of the lactose (milk sugar) is found in the whey, which is simply not present in most harder cheeses. In addition, aging the cheese can help to reduce the lactose content even further; typically the longer the aging process, the less lactose in the finished product.
When it comes to lactose intolerance, not all cheeses are created equal. Soft cheeses such as cream cheese, ricotta, and brie still have a high lactose content, although lower than that of unprocessed milk. Generally the harder the cheese, the less whey (and therefore less lactose) and the softer the cheese, the more whey is still present.
Here is our breakdown of the top 4 lactose-intolerance-friendly cheeses readily available:
- Cheddar cheese – arguably the easiest cheese to find. The sharper the cheddar, the less lactose it contains, although even cheese aged only a few months has already had most of its lactose converted.
- Parmesan cheese – since this cheese is often aged for a long time, the lactose content is very low (0.1-1%, as compared to skim milk at 4-5%). At this low of a lactose concentration, it has almost no effect on lactose intolerance as long as it is consumed in moderation.
- Swiss cheese – 0-3% lactose concentration. Again, as with the others, the longer it is aged, the lower the lactose concentration.
- Blue Cheese (ideally Stilton) – For those who may not know, Stilton is a variety of blue cheese that is aged for a long period of time. Remember that this aging process helps to convert the lactose and make it easier to digest. This is the same process that makes a cheese “sharp”, as less sugars means a stronger flavor.
When it comes to lactose intolerance, you may also be surprised to find that lower fat cheeses actually have a higher lactose concentration, and therefore lactose intolerant individuals should instead opt for a full fat cheese and simply consume in moderation.