The good news is that you can enjoy some cheese on the low FODMAP diet. The low FODMAP diet is not a dairy free diet, however you do need to avoid high lactose products. The trick is to choose naturally low lactose cheeses and to control your portion size.
Types of cheeses
Natural, aged cheese normally contains less than 0.5g of sugar, which means they will only contain very small or trace amounts of lactose per serve (Andrews, 2015
). These cheeses include Cheddar, Camembert, Cheshire, Pecorino Style, Swiss, Brie, Blue Cheese, Harvati, or Parmesan and can often be digested by people with lactose intolerance. During the manufacturing process most of the lactose is drained off with the whey (Andrews, 2015
). The small amounts of lactose left in the curd is then transformed into lactic acid as the cheese ripens (Andrews, 2015
Fresh unripened cheeses can have lactose levels that are less than 5 grams (Andrews, 2015
). These include Colby, Edam, Halomi, Cottage Cheese, Feta, or Cream Cheese. These cheeses do not go through a long aging process which means that not all of the lactose in the curd converts into lactic acid (Andrews, 2015
Processed cheese foods and spreads are normally made by melting natural cheese and then adding dairy products like whey or milk (Andrews, 2015
). These products will contain higher levels of lactose (Andrews, 2015
How to choose safe cheeses
There is a quick and easy way to check how much lactose is in your cheese. Look in the nutrition facts panel on the cheese label. The sugar in cheese is lactose – this means the lower the amount of sugar, the less lactose the cheese contains. This trick only works for cheese as other lactose containing products like milk or yoghurt can have added sugar.
Note on lactose content of Feta cheese
There was one discrepancy in the lactose levels for feta cheese between the USA database and the Australia/New Zealand database. Feta cheese is listed as containing 0.1g lactose per 100g in the Australia/New Zealand database and 4g of carbohydrates (lactose) per 100g in the USDA database. The difference in lactose levels could be due to manufacturing processes. This means it is recommended that you check the nutrition label before purchasing your feta cheese and adjust your portion size as needed.
Dairy products are an important part of a healthy diet and unless you are completely dairy intolerant there is no need to avoid them. While on the low FODMAP diet there is a range of low lactose cheeses to choose from. Try adding them to your favourite salad, low FODMAP pizza, or have a slice of cheese on a rice cracker for a delicious snack.