Which Cheeses Are Lactose-Free?

Creamy and addictive, cheese can be tempting and difficult to pass up. However, if you regularly have difficulty digesting cheese, you might have lactose intolerance -- and that can make eating cheese a choice you pay for later with an upset stomach. Choosing a low-lactose or lactose-free cheese can help you avoid this situation.

Large blocks of gouda cheese on small table. (Image: Özgür Güvenç/iStock/Getty Images)

What Is Lactose Intolerance?

Lactose intolerance is a result of your body's inability to properly digest or absorb lactose, a natural sugar found in milk and milk products. In some cases, you body does not produce enough lactase, which is needed to break down lactose, causing your colon to produce gas, leading to bloating. Lactose intolerance can also result from poor lactose absorption, which can cause bloating, pain and gas.

Hard Cheeses

Hard cheeses, which have been aged until much of the moisture is evaporated and are firm in texture and touch, are naturally low in lactose or lactose-free. With stronger flavor than many soft cheeses, a small serving of hard cheese will go a long way. Common hard cheeses include Parmesan, Asiago and even medium-firm cheeses, such as cheddar, Gouda and jack cheeses.

Nondairy Cheeses

Non-dairy cheeses are also known as vegan cheese. They are made from soy products, so they are lactose-free. Unlike vegan cheese substitutes, which are often made from nuts and seeds, nondairy cheeses come in a range of varieties to mimic "normal" cheese. Nondairy cheeses are like dairy cheeses in their melting properties, but the texture, taste and appearance of these soy-based cheeses are often drier and less full-flavored than dairy cheeses.

Yogurt Cheeses

Yogurt cheeses, such as labneh, are cultured cheeses made from strained yogurt that, as it loses its moisture content, becomes thicker. A soft cheese, yogurt cheese does contain lactose, but due to the culturing process it has less lactose than other soft cheeses, and in some cases, the lactose has minimal effect on the digestive system. You can make yogurt cheese at home by straining yogurt through cheesecloth from one to 24 hours, or you can purchase it. The cheeses are common to Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisines, where they can be used to thicken stews or as a stand-alone spread.

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