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Cheddar Cheese & Diarrhea

author image Anastasia Climan
Anastasia Climan is a registered dietitian and active member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Her experience includes managing a medical nutrition grant for HIV, developing menus for local preschools and coaching clients on nutrition through her business, The Princess Prescription. Her numerous articles have appeared on Jillian Michaels and other health sites.
Cheddar Cheese & Diarrhea
A plate of cheddar cheese and crackers. Photo Credit Warren Price/iStock/Getty Images

If you have suffered the consequences of lactose-intolerance, you may be afraid to include any dairy in your diet. However, dairy is an excellent source of calcium, and even if milk doesn't agree with you, it is still a good idea to have some yogurt or cheese in your diet. Aged-cheddar is a great option for the lactose-intolerant because much of the lactose is digested by bacteria during the cheese-making process.

Lactose Intolerance

Lactose is a sugar from dairy digested in the small intestine by the enzyme lactase. If your body has low levels of this enzyme, lactose travels down the gastrointestinal tract undigested. Intact lactose eventually arrives at the colon, where it draws in water. The result is watery diarrhea, often accompanied by painful cramps, gas and bloating.

Many individuals have an impaired ability to digest lactose to some degree. You may be able to tolerate a little milk in your cereal, whereas a large glass would send you running to the bathroom. Compared to other cheeses, cheddar cheese has a low concentration of intact lactose, making it easier to tolerate.

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Lactose in Cheddar Cheese

One and a half ounces of cheddar cheese has only about 1 g of lactose. Compare this to a cup of milk, with 9 to 14 g of lactose, and you can see why hard cheeses are better tolerated by most people. The portion of dairy that contains the most lactose is whey. During the production of cheddar cheese, whey is removed. Cheeses that are aged 3 to 4 weeks or more contain very little lactose.

Low Lactose Options

Additional diary options for the lactose-intolerant include other aged cheeses, like Swiss or parmesan. Most yogurt is also easier to handle because bacteria help breakdown some of the natural sugars. Look for yogurts that contain "live active cultures." Try having small portions of dairy, spaced throughout the day. Certain brands of milk are designed to contain predigested lactose. Manufacturers add the enzyme lactase to help break down lactose before you drink it.

Non-dairy products like soy, almond, and rice milk can also be a great source of calcium. Check the label to be sure these products are fortified with calcium. Tofu, broccoli, salmon with bones and dark leafy greens also have calcium. Talk to your doctor or a registered dietitian to find out if you are getting enough calcium from food, or if you should consider a supplement.

The Joys of Cheddar Cheese

Managing lactose intolerance is all about making sure you do not consume more lactose at one time than your body can handle. Trial and error can help you determine what amount and types of food will work for you. Because cheddar cheese is so low in lactose, try having small portions with meals and snacks. Cheddar cheese cubes are great with grapes and whole wheat crackers for a snack. Melt cheddar cheese in a tortilla or add cheddar cheese crumbles to your salad. However you choose to have it, cheddar cheese can be a great option for the lactose intolerant, just don't eat too much at once.

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