Lactose Levels in Cheese

by Shelly Morgan

About Shelly Morgan

Shelly Morgan has been writing and editing for over 25 years for various medical and scientific publications. Although she began her professional career in pharmacological research, Morgan turned to patent law where she specialized in prosecuting patents for medical devices. She also writes about renal disease and hypertension for several nonprofits aimed at educating and supporting kidney patients.

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Getting information regarding the lactose content of cheese is difficult because the government does not require that companies provide consumers with this information. Even the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which is normally the gold standard for nutritional data, does not consistently provide it. The closest that you can get to this information is by looking at the sugar content in the cheese. Since lactose is milk sugar, the amount of milk sugar is reflected in the total sugar content.

Lactose and Cheese Making

When milk is made into cheese, solid cheese curds are separated from the whey. Since most of the fat is in the curds, and most of the water is in the whey, it follows that most of the lactose is in the whey. With the exception of the very few cheeses such as gjetost --- also known as brunost -- that are made from whey, cheese has far less lactose than the milk it comes from because most of the lactose is lost in the cheese-making process.

Soft Cheese

Soft cheeses, such as cottage cheese and cream cheese, have more lactose than hard cheese because they have more whey. There is a 10 percent to 15 percent difference in the water content of hard and soft cheese. Since the water content of soft cheese is higher than the water content of hard cheese, the lactose levels are higher, as well. For example, 1 ounce of cream cheese has 0.9 grams of lactose, and 1 ounce of cottage cheese has 0.755 grams of lactose. These levels are significantly higher than in 1 ounce of hard cheeses such as cheddar and Swiss, which have 0.07 grams and 0.02 grams, respectively.

Soy Cheese

Other than a very small quantity of milk protein, milk is not used in making soy cheese. For this reason, soy cheese is lactose-free. If you are so lactose-sensitive that you cannot eat cheese, you may wish to try soy cheese. Soy cheese is sold in slices that can be used in sandwiches or chopped for use in making pizza and topping casseroles and salads.

Lactose Intolerance

People who are lactose-intolerant lack lactase, an enzyme that helps to digest lactose. Consequently, they get symptoms of gastrointestinal distress after drinking milk or eating certain dairy products. The California Pacific Medical Center indicates that even if you are lactose-intolerant, you can usually eat aged cheeses, such as Swiss and cheddar, as well as processed cheese and cottage cheese, because these products have low levels of lactose.

Photo Credits:

  • Cheese. Cheddar , cream , and feta cheese on a plate image by L. Shat from Fotolia.com

This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or JillianMichaels.com.