Ask my lactose-intolerant daughter what she misses eating most, and she speaks for many of the individuals who lack the ability to process most dairy products (roughly 65 percent of all people, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine): cheese. As in mac and cheese. As in lasagna, baked ziti, stuffed shells, and just about every other yummy Italian dish loved by kids young and old. While ice cream runs a close second, if you are a true cheese lover, it is sorely missed when you’re told you can’t have it.
Well, here’s some news that might surprise you. Did you know that hard, naturally and well-aged cheeses such as sharp cheddar and mature Parmesan, contain low, trace amounts of lactose – generally less than 1 gram of lactose per ounce? In fact, the majority of the lactose found in cheeses is removed with the whey during the manufacturing process. This means you might be able to enjoy a consequence-free, happy little cheesy nosh if you choose an aged cheese and quell that very specific hunger pang. But remember we’re only talking one to a few ounces, not a feast, or else the end result can be an ugly bout of bloating, diarrhea, painful gas, or constipation.
Which cheeses contain the most lactose? Number 1: processed cheeses (think Velveeta) can contain as much lactose as whole milk. Next, unripened and fresh cheeses such as farmer’s cheese, cream cheese, and queso fresco have very high quantities of lactose and are best avoided by lactose-intolerant folk.
If the nutritional label on the back of a package of cheese or cheese product says it contains zero sugar, this suggests that the product is lactose-free, since lactose is a sugar.
Regardless of being diagnosed as lactose-intolerant or not, the ability to digest lactose varies individual to individual, so the key to enjoying low level lactose products is knowing your own body and moderating amounts consumed.