Cheese & FODMAPs
Myth: Cheese is not allowed on a Low FODMAP diet
Fact: Most cheese is naturally lactose free and Low FODMAP
The most common misconception on the Low FODMAP diet is confusing lactose free and dairy free. The Low FODMAP diet is lactose free, not dairy free, so there is no reason to avoid dairy completely and choosing lactose free options is becoming easier with the growing variety of lactose free products available. In addition to being delicious, dairy plays a very important role in a balanced diet and will assist in building and maintaining strong bones.
What is lactose?
Before we get into cheese, let’s start with a little background on lactose. Lactose is the natural sugar in milk and milk products. This includes cow’s milk, goats’ milk, sheep milk, camel milk, and any other animal-based milk. Lactose is a disaccharide and the “D” in the FODMAP acronym. Being a disaccharide, (“di” meaning two) it is a double sugar molecule made of glucose and galactose. When these two sugars are combined, they are known as lactose.
What is lactose intolerance?
During digestion, an enzyme is released in the small intestine which separates the glucose and galactose into individual sugars. Once these are separated, they are easily digested and are not a FODMAP. If a person has low levels of the lactase enzyme, they are unable to separate the lactose sugars and they cannot digest them. In this case, the lactose remains intact and continues its path along the digestive tract to the colon where it is fermented and attracts water causing all of those all too familiar symptoms of gas, bloating and diarrhoea.
Dairy vs lactose free dairy
During manufacturing, it is possible to add the lactase enzyme to foods like milk, yoghurt, ice cream and custard. This enzyme does the job of breaking down the lactose in the body and makes the product lactose free. If you check the label on these products, you will see “enzyme lactase” listed. Alternatively, you can purchase lactase enzyme tablets at the chemist and take these with your lactose containing food.
Cheese & Lactose
Lactose is essentially the ‘sugar’ in milk and milk products. The higher the sugar content, the higher the lactose, and therefore FODMAP content. When it comes to cheese, it’s good to know that the Monash cut off is 1 gram of lactose per meal or snack. With this knowledge, if you check the sugar content in the nutrition information panel (NIP) on cheese, this will tell you exactly how much lactose it contains (please note, this only applies to dairy or cheese that do not have added flavours or sweeteners). Generally, if you can stir the cheese with a spoon, it has a higher sugar and lactose content while firmer cheese that you can slice or grate i.e. In a block, the lower the sugar and lactose content.
Low FODMAP cheese
Aged and firm cheese usually contains the least amount of lactose/sugar. This is due to the lactose content being removed with the whey in the manufacturing process. If you check the NIP on these cheeses, you will see that they are approx. <0.1 grams of sugar per 100 grams. This means to meet the FODMAP cut off of one gram, you would have to eat a VERY large serve.
Aged and firm cheeses that are Low FODMAP include:
- Firm goat cheese
- Monterey Jack and more
Moderate FODMAP cheese
Soft cheeses are often processed by melting natural cheese & adding dairy products such as milk. Because of this process, soft cheeses are known to be higher in sugar, and therefore, lactose due to the process. On the NIP, you will see they contain higher levels of sugar and, therefore lactose. On a Low FODMAP diet, the serve sizes are limited to approx. 40g. Check the Monash University FODMAP diet app for more information on serve sizes. Serve sizes are listed ‘per meal/snack’, meaning that you can consume a green light serve every 3-4 hours.
Cheeses that contain moderate levels of FODMAPs include:
- Cream cheese
- Ricotta cheese
- Haloumi cheese.
- Soft goat cheese
Cheese & marketing
It is useful to have an understanding of the FODMAP content of cheese in relation to marketing strategies. There are a lot of products on the market that are advertised as ‘lactose free’ and sold at a higher price, but in fact don’t usually contain much lactose to begin with. Kind of like popping a “vegetarian” label on an apple and charging more for it. Examples include tasty cheese & mozzarella cheese. Be a savvy shopper and check the NIP for sugar content or check ingredients of lactose free varieties for the addition of a lactase enzyme. If the regular variety of the cheese is low in sugar and does not list lactase enzyme, it may not be necessary to purchase the higher priced option with lactose free written on the label. Cheeses that are worth buying the lactose free options are cream, cottage cheese or ricotta as they tend to be naturally higher in FODMAPs.
Enjoying cheese as part of the Low FODMAP diet
A common theme from the Low FODMAP diet is the feeling of hunger and not feeling satisfied throughout the day. This can be due to a rapid shift in serve sizes from what people are used to. What users are not doing though, is replacing these serve size limits with filling Low FODMAP protein rich sources. Cheese is a great source of protein that can add bulk to meals and keep people satisfied across the day. Try adding cheese to your sandwich, salad, pizza or on some crackers for a snack.
If you are entertaining, cheese boards are an easy way to cater with multiple options being served. Deli meats such as sliced ham off the bone is Low FODMAP and salami can be found without onion or garlic. Rice crackers are a good alternative to wheat-based crackers. Up to ½ cup green or black pitted olives are also permitted on Low FODMAP. Cheddar, brie, camembert, and Havarti cheese are great additions to a serving board. Walnuts & almonds are a great healthy fat to add to the board, along with grapes (6 is Low FODMAP), blueberries (¼ cup) & strawberries (5 medium).
Choosing cheese that is Low FODMAP can be confusing as there are so many varieties out there. Lactose is the most important ingredient to look for with determining whether it is Low FODMAP. Having good knowledge on the types of cheese that are allowed on the Low FODMAP diet will make this process a lot easier and more enjoyable.
Here are Lo-Fo Pantry’s favourite cheesy recipes: