Low FODMAP cheese includes all hard cheeses, as well as some other types. This is because the lactose is destroyed during the fermentation process.
In this article, we will discuss what the deal is with cheese, uncover exactly which cheeses are FODMAP friendly and how cheese can fit into your diet.
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How can cheese be low FODMAP?
Not all cheeses are created equal when it comes to FODMAP levels. This depends on how the cheese is manufactured and aged!
The FODMAP that we are concerned with cheese is lactose. Lactose is a naturally occurring sugar known as a disaccharide found in milk and dairy products.
It is important to note that you don’t need to avoid lactose if you are confirmed NOT to have lactose intolerance by a doctor (1)!
Low FODMAP cheese
Generally speaking, the fresher the cheese, the more lactose it will have. Hard and matured cheeses are recommended as most of the lactose has been removed during the cheese manufacturing process.
Here comes the nitty-gritty science bit. Cheese is made by adding a bacterial culture to milk. The bacteria chips away the lactose present converting it into lactic acid. An enzyme is added which separates the milk into whey and curd. Most lactose is found in whey and is then drained off (2).
Any remaining lactose is further broken down by the bacteria. So the longer the cheese is aged, the less lactose it will contain (3). These are well tolerated by people with IBS.
- Brie cheese
- Camembert cheese
- Cheddar cheese
- Monterey Jack cheese
- Pecorino Style cheese
- Swiss cheese
Note this is not an exhaustive list. Please download the Monash University app for more details. Always check the ingredient list for any additives, flavourings or toppings that are high in FODMAP!
Moderate FODMAP Cheese
In general, wet cheeses tend to be higher in lactose than aged ones. The process of making fresh cheese is much faster.
This means there is less time for the bacteria to break down the lactose content. The whey content along with lactose tends to be higher as less is drained off.
Below is a list of some of the moderate FODMAP cheeses as per the Monash FODMAP app:
- Edam cheese
- Cream cheese
- Quark cheese
- Ricotta cheese
Does it mean we can’t have the listed moderate FODMAP cheeses? Absolutely not – it’s all about portion sizes! Sticking within the limits is important to avoid a high intake of FODMAPs.
Some of these cheeses have a low FODMAP serving size. For example, 40g of ricotta cheese is considered to be low FODMAP and moderate at 80g as per the Monash app.
What about cheese that is not on the low FODMAP app?
Unfortunately, many varieties of cheese are not listed on the app as they have not been tested yet. So can you have them? Yes if it is suitable!
A quick and easy way to identify if your cheese is suitable is to check the nutrition label! Monash states low-FODMAP serving of lactose is 1g or less per serving. As lactose is a sugar, look for cheeses that contain 1g or less of sugar per serving size.
(Note this does not work for other lactose containing products like milk or yoghurt as they can have added sugar).
Remember to always double check the ingredients list for high FODMAP added flavourings. Cheese with garlic or with certain dried fruits such as apricot should be avoided.
High FODMAP cheese and cheese products
Finally, we have processed cheese spreads and sauces. These are made by melting cheese and then adding dairy products such as milk solids, whey or milk protein concentrates. These can be high in FODMAPs due to the high lactose content!
It’s important to keep in mind that intolerance levels can vary for everyone. This is why completing the FODMAP reintroduction is so important.
Dairy free vs lactose free
These terms are often used interchangeably but they don’t mean the same thing!
- Dairy free = Products that are not derived from dairy e.g. almond milk
- Lactose free = Products where lactose has been removed e.g. lactose free milk
Dairy free products are derived from plants. A dairy free product is lactose free but a lactose free product is not necessarily dairy free. For example, almond milk made from almonds is dairy free and lactose free but lactose free milk from a cow is not dairy free.
Nutritional benefits of cheese on the low FODMAP diet
Cheese is a great source of nutrients including (5):
- Vitamins including A, B2 and B12
- Minerals including zinc, phosphorus, magnesium and potassium
There is a common misconception that following a low FODMAP diet means giving up on all dairy products. This often leads to people missing out on this highly nutritious food group!
In general, people following the low FODMAP diet often have lower intakes of calcium (6). This is a concern as calcium is a key nutrient that helps us maintain strong bones and teeth. It keeps our muscles working and hearts functioning properly. It also reduces our risk of developing bone-related conditions like osteoporosis (7).
Dairy products are the richest sources of calcium, so you should aim for 3 servings of lactose free dairy products per day (8). This could be 30g low FODMAP cheese, 120g pot low FODMAP yoghurt and 200ml of low FODMAP milk.
It is important to remember that you can consume dairy products on the low FODMAP diet. Choose what works for you as long as these products do not contain other high FODMAP ingredients!
Cheese is packed with key nutrients and can be part of a balanced diet when following the low FODMAP diet. There is plenty of low FODMAP cheese to choose from and remember that portion sizes are also key!
Kirsten Jackson is a UK registered Consultant Gastroenterology Dietitian and founder of The Food Treatment Clinic. She has undergone many qualifications to get where she is today, including a UK BSc Honours Degree in Dietetics and Post-Graduate Certificate in Advanced Dietetics. In addition to this, she has FODMAP Training from Kings College London University. Kirsten set up The Food Treatment Clinic in 2015 after first experiencing digestive problems herself. She felt that the NHS was unable to provide the support individuals needed and went on to specialise in this area before opening a bespoke IBS service. Kirsten also participates in charity work as an Expert Advisor for the IBS Network. In addition, she can be seen in publications such as Cosmopolitan and The Telegraph discussing IBS as an Official Media Spokesperson to the IBS Network.