Are there cheeses that are safe for those who are lactose intolerant?

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Ask Dr. Gourmet

Which cheeses are safe for those with lactose intolerance?

I have heard there are some cheeses that will not cause a problem for those who are lactose intolerant. Can you tell me some?

Dr. Gourmet Says...

Brie cheese

We doctors have an expression about the effect of medications on the body: "dose dependent." By this we mean that people will sometimes not have side effects to a certain medication or substance until they consume more than a certain amount. The side effects are dependent on the dose.

When it comes to lactose intolerance this is also true. Some people can easily tolerate 1/4 cup of milk on their cereal and not have problems, but will experience symptoms when they drink a full glass of milk. Other people will have problems with as little as two tablespoons.

The good news is that most people who are lactose intolerant can consume dairy products that have been cultured - like sour cream, yogurt and cheese (ah... cheese). Generally speaking, younger cheeses are more likely to have more lactose. The process that happens when cheese is made is dependent on the (good) bacteria consuming lactose as fuel, promoting fermentation. The more aged a cheese, the more likely it is to have more of the lactose consumed. For instance, an ounce of sharp cheddar has less than a gram of lactose per ounce, while a half cup of ricotta cheese may have as much as 6 grams (a cup of milk has about 10 grams of lactose). As a rule of thumb, a more aged cheese will be a harder cheese, while younger cheeses tend to be softer (more spreadable).

Thanks for writing,

Timothy S. Harlan, MD, FACP, CCMS
Dr. Gourmet