Cheese and Lactose Intolerance

by Bob Fusco

National Institute of Health 10/95

Cheese is an ideal source of nutrients for people suffering from lactose intolerance, according to gastroenterologists who study the condition. “Most cheeses are so low in lactose that they do not present a problem for patients with lactase deficiency,” said Michael D. Levitt, M.D., gastroenterologist at the Veteran’s Affairs Medical Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and lead author of a New England Journal of Medicine study on lactose intolerance. In addition to being low in lactose, experts agree that cheese provides essential nutrients, such as calcium, that Americans aren’t getting enough of.

Most of the lactose is removed from the cheese with the whey during the manufacturing process. As a result, most ripened cheeses contain about 95 percent less lactose (.4 to 1 gram per serving) than whole milk (9-12 grams per serving), and less even than Lactaid milk (3 grams per serving), a brand of fluid milk that has most of the lactose specially removed.

The New England Journal of Medicine study, which investigated the effects of milk on people with self-diagnosed severe lactose intolerance, found that tens of thousands of people may be mistakenly diagnosing themselves as lactose intolerant. In addition, the study determined that almost everyone could tolerate an eight-ounce glass of milk — or up to 12 grams of lactose — a day without experiencing any symptoms. Twelve grams of lactose correlates to the amount found in an entire cheese pizza, or four or five cheese sandwiches, more than most people would ever eat in one day.

Cheese is Low in Lactose
and Nutrient Dense

In addition to its low lactose content, cheese is nutrient dense. The milk curds, which form cheese, retain almost all of the milk’s protein, and important vitamins and minerals, such as calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, riboflavin, and vitamin A.

Health professionals agree that too many Americans — 9 out of 10 women — are not getting the calcium they need to help build strong bones and prevent osteoporosis. The 1994 National Institutes of Health Consensus Development Conference on Optimal Calcium Intake recommends a higher calcium intake for most groups and states the preferred sources of calcium are through foods rich in calcium, such as dairy products.

“To meet NIH’s new daily recommendations for optimal health, many Americans will have to double the amount of calcium in their diets,” said Edith Howard Hogan, R.D., a consulting nutritionist in Washington, D.C. “Cheese provides a tasty and viable solution for all groups of Americans to increase their intake of calcium — not only does this one product provide a wide range of flavoring possibilities, it is also a good way for people with lactose intolerance to get the calcium they need.”

site map * E-mail the Milk Pail

[fancy rule]

Other related sites