Cheese is a fermented food made from milk, usually garnered from cows, goats or sheeps. Some cheese varieties have molds that add a characteristic flavor. Cheese is an excellent source of calcium, which is important for bone and teeth health, and protein, for muscle maintenance and building. However, consumption of cheese also can cause a number of problems in a few people.
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Some people are lactose intolerant, meaning that they cannot digest the lactose found in milk and milk products. As a result, consumption of lactose causes abdominal bloating, cramps, diarrhea, gas and nausea, typically 30 minutes to 2 hours after consuming the dairy product. There are varying levels of lactose intolerance. For those who can tolerate some lactose, they usually can consume cheese because the fermentation process reduces the lactose content greatly. According to the “Manual of Dietetic Practice,” hard, aged cheeses contain the least amount of lactose. However, soft, fresh cheese still contains significant amounts of lactose and is likely to cause problems in these persons.
Cow protein allergy, or dairy allergy, is different from lactose intolerance. Persons allergic to cow protein cannot tolerate any quantities of this protein, so all types of cheese made from mammalian milk should be avoided. Some of the symptoms of dairy allergy listed in the “Oxford Handbook of Clinical Medicine” include eczema, rashes, hives, diarrhea, gas, constipation and asthma.
Some people are sensitive to amines, a class of substances found in some foods. Common foods containing amines are cheese, chocolate, citrus fruits and wine. Consumption of these by amine-sensitive individuals causes headaches, rashes and blood pressure elevations. Fresh cheeses, such as mozzarella, cottage and ricotta, may not cause problems as their amine levels are very low. On the other hand, aged cheeses are very high in amines.
Weight Gain and High Blood Pressure
Cheese, especially the hard varieties, tend to be high in calories and salt, and regular consumption can lead to weight gain and hypertension. You should limit your cheese intake if you want to control your weight or have a heart condition. Soft cheeses are lower in calories and salt than hard cheeses, which make them a healthier option.
- “Manual of Dietetic Practice, 4th Edition"; T. Briony and J. Bishop; 2007
- “Oxford Handbook of Clinical Medicine, 5th Edition”; M. Longmore, et al.; 2001