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 . 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. The small amounts of lactose left in the curd is then transformed into lactic acid as the cheese ripens.
Fresh unripened cheeses can have lactose levels that are less than 5 grams. 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.
Processed cheese foods and spreads are normally made by melting natural cheese and then adding dairy products like whey or milk. These products will contain higher levels of lactose.
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.
From the table below it appears that the Monash Low FODMAP app recommends cheese serving sizes that contain less than 1g of lactose per serve. This means when reading labels look for cheeses that contain 1g or less of lactose per serve.
So which cheeses are considered safe for the low FODMAP diet?
The table below is compiled from information from the Monash University low FODMAP app, as well as the Food Standards Australia New Zealand NUTTAB Database and USDA Natural Nutrient Database.
|Lactose Content of Cheese|
|Low FODMAP Cheeses||Lactose per 100g||Recommended Serving Size|
|Blue Cheese||0 – 0.5||Not tested but could be considered low FODMAP|
|Camembert Cheese||0.1g – 0.46||Low FODMAP serve 40g|
|Cheddar Cheese||0.1g – 0.48||Low FODMAP serve 40g|
|Cheshire Cheese||0.0g||Not tested but could be considered low FODMAP|
|Cheese, soft, white, mould coated (brie & camembert)||0.1g – 0.46g||Low FODMAP serve 40g|
|Colby Cheese||0.1g – 0.69g||Low FODMAP serve 40g|
|Creamed Cottage Cheese||1.9g – 2.67g||Low FODMAP serve 36g. Some cottage cheese might be lower in lactose than others so check the labels|
|Feta Cheese (cows milk or sheep & cows milk)||0.1g to 4.09||Low FODMAP serve 125g (See note below about lactose levels)|
|Pecorino Style Cheese||0.2g||Low FODMAP serve 60g|
|Swiss Cheese||0.0g – 0.1g||Low FODMAP serve 54g|
|Harvati||0.1g||Low FODMAP serve 54g|
|Romano Style||0.2g – 0.73g||Not tested but could be considered low FODMAP|
|Mozzarella Cheese||0.1g – 1.0g||Low FODMAP serve 60g|
|Parmesan||0.0 – 0.07||Not tested but could be considered low FODMAP|
|Moderate FODMAP Cheese|
|Edam Cheese||0.0g – 1.43g||Not tested but depending on the product lactose level and serve it could contain moderate FODMAPs|
|Cream Cheese||2.5g – 3.76||Moderate FODMAP at 40g|
|Gouda Cheese||0g – 2.22g||Not tested but depending on the product lactose level and serve it could contain moderate FODMAPs|
|Haloumi||1.8g||Low FODMAP serve 50g, Moderate FODMAP at 100g|
|Quark cheese (low fat)||2.9g||Not tested but depending on the product lactose level and serve it could contain moderate FODMAPs|
|Ricotta||0.27 – 2.0g||Low FODMAP 40g, Moderate FODMAP at 80g|
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.
Please note: If you want more information on going low FODMAP please see our FODMAP toolkit: Your complete guide to going low-FODMAP. Full print ready version available for purchase, details here.
Article sources and references
- Andrews, J. Low-Level Lactose Foods. Wegmans. 2015
- NUTTAB Database. Search Term: Cheese. Food Standards Australia New Zealand NUTTAB Database, 2010. 2010http://www.foodstandards.govt.nz/Pages/default.aspx
- . USDA. National Nutrient Database – Search Term: Cheese. United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service. 2015https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/
- Monash University. Monash Low FODMAP App. Monash University. 2015: iPhone version 1.5 (295)https://www.monash.edu/