The best and worst types of cheeses if you have lactose intolerance

The best and worst types of cheeses if you have lactose intolerance
Instead of orange cheese, go for a white cheese.Michelle Arnold/EyeEm via Getty Images, HandmadePictures/Getty Images
  • Some of the best cheeses for lactose intolerance are muenster, brie, camembert, and gouda.
  • Cheddar cheese, parmesan, and provolone are also relatively low in lactose.

Just because you're lactose intolerant doesn't mean you can't enjoy cheese.

Yes, cheese is a dairy product and therefore contains lactose, which is hard or impossible to digest for those who are lactose intolerant, as they lack the enzyme lactase that breaks down lactose.

But every cheese is unique, and some cheeses contain far less lactose than others, making them more friendly for the lactose intolerants.

The best cheeses for lactose intolerance

Lactose intolerance varies from person to person. Some people can handle quite a bit of lactose before they feel symptoms, while others may experience symptoms even after consuming a tiny bit.

However, generally speaking, the best cheeses for lactose intolerant folks are aged and hard cheeses, as they contain less lactose than fresh, soft cheese, says Dana Hunnes, a registered dietitian at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center.

This is because when the cheese is cultured, the curds (the solid parts of the milk) are drained of liquid which contains whey, and this whey contains most of the lactose, says Allison Childress, a registered dietitian nutritionist and assistant professor in the department of nutritional sciences at Texas Tech University.


Additionally, Childress says the longer cheese ages, the lower the lactose content it will have, since as cheese ages, the lactose gets converted into lactic acid.

In aged cheese the lactose is converted to lactic acid. In addition, some lactose is separated and drained off with the whey protein during the aging process.

According to Hunnes and Childress, here are some kinds of cheese with the lowest amount of lactose:

Type of cheeseLactose content
Muenster 0-1.1%
Camembert 0-1.8%

If you're sticking with these cheeses, you likely don't have to worry about reacting poorly to them.

However, if you're nervous, Hunnes suggests "starting with the smallest amount possible to get the flavor you are looking for."

For example, she says you can start by finely grating a bit of cheese on top of something, see how you feel, and build up from there.


If you are going to have a reaction to cheese, Childress says you'll notice within a few hours. Usually, lactose intolerance symptoms will show up anywhere from a half hour to two hours after consuming lactose.

The worst cheese if you have lactose intolerance

Generally, soft and/or highly processed cheese are the worst to eat if you're lactose intolerant.

According to Childress, here are some kinds of cheese with the highest lactose content:

Type of cheeseLactose content
FetaUp to 4.1%
RicottaUp to 5.1%
VelveetaUp to 9.3%
AmericanUp to 14.2%

These options have more lactose in them because when cheese is processed, soft, and not aged, it doesn't lose as much lactose in the cheesemaking process as hard, aged cheese would. This is because the lactose does not have the same chance to convert to lactic acid as it does in aged cheese, Childress says. Additionally, compared to hard cheese, there may not be as much whey protein drained off, leaving more lactose behind.

Tips for eating cheese when you're lactose intolerant

"Aged and hard cheese are the best for individuals who are lactose sensitive," Hunnes says.


Another alternative is to skip lactose and dairy altogether by choosing vegan cheese, which will always be safe for lactose-sensitive individuals, she says. Vegan cheeses are plant-based and therefore contain zero lactose.

If you're wondering if a certain type of cheese is safe for your stomach, remember that the highest lactose cheeses are either highly processed, like American or Velveeta, or soft, like feta or ricotta, Childress says. However, there are exceptions to the rule. For example, while Brie and Camembert are both soft cheeses, they're also low in lactose.

Additionally, be mindful of serving size. The serving size of natural cheese is considered 1.5 ounces, so you should try to avoid exceeding this amount in a serving — especially in the beginning when you're testing what's friendly for your digestive system.

Insider's takeaway

You can enjoy cheese even if you're lactose intolerant. You should opt for cheeses that are hard and aged, since they tend to have the lowest lactose content. If you eat this type of cheese, it's likely you won't experience stomach upset. To be safe, stick to consuming small amounts.