Are you a cheese enthusiast with IBS?
It can be so confusing to know which dairy products contribute to digestive discomfort. As a gut health dietitian, clients tell me all the time that milk or ice cream increases their symptoms, but cheese is “hit and miss”. It may feel baffling, but there’s actually a very logical explanation for this! In this post, we’ll be diving into the world of cheese (sign me up) and specifically reviewing whether cheese is permitted during the elimination phase of the low FODMAP diet.
IBS and Dairy
There’s a common misconception that dairy is a no-no for those with IBS. While many people with IBS do have lactose intolerance, this doesn’t automatically rule out all dairy products. The lactose content within dairy products varies depending on the product and the manufacturing of the milk itself. While it is possible to have sensitivities or allergies to other components of dairy (like casein or whey), it is typically lactose that IBS patients find to exacerbate their symptoms.
Keep in mind – not everyone with IBS is lactose intolerant. If you’ve had lactose intolerance testing and have been found to tolerate lactose fine, you don’t need to omit lactose from your diet – even during the elimination phase of the low FODMAP diet!
Is Cheese Low FODMAP?
There are SO MANY types of cheese out there, ranging from creamy and indulgent to sharp and crumbly. But here’s the twist: did you know that the FODMAP content of cheese can vary depending on its production method, water content, and more? This means some cheeses are naturally low FODMAP and others are naturally high in lactose, a type of FODMAP.
To make cheese, bacterial culture is added to digest the sugar (lactose) and this leads to a bacterial process where lactic acid is produced. This lactic acid then causes one of the proteins in the milk, casein, to coagulate (ie. curdles the milk). From there, the curdled casein is separated from the more liquidy whey protein and then pressed into shapes – typically blocks or wheels! Depending on the cheese, there’s typically an aging process that follows this. This dries out the cheese even further.
Since the bacteria added to milk during cheesemaking consumes much of the lactose, a lot of cheese is naturally low in lactose.
However, this really depends on how fresh vs. aged the cheese is. Aged cheeses are generally a safe-bet for those with IBS and lactose intolerance, since there’s lot of time for the bacteria to digest the lactose.
Low FODMAP Cheese List
The following types of cheese are considered low FODMAP at a portion of 40 grams. Visually, this is about 1.5 to 2 thumb-sized portions of cheese.
- Cottage cheese (40 grams is equivalent to about 2 tablespoons)
- Cream Cheese (40 grams is equivalent to about 2 tablespoons)
- Goat cheese/chevre (40 grams is equivalent to about 1 tablespoon crumbled)
- Monterey Jack
- Queso Fresco
- Ricotta (40 grams is equivalent to about 2 tablespoons)
With some of the softer styles of cheese, like cottage cheese or goat cheese, it is common to eat more than 40 grams in a sitting. While they do have a low FODMAP serving, it may be best to purchase a lactose-free version, especially if you plan to eat more!
High FODMAP Cheese: What Should I Avoid?
According to Monash University, all cheese that they’ve tested for FODMAPs has at least a small low FODMAP serving. However, some types of cheese can be eaten more liberally on a low FODMAP diet than others. Here are the cheese varieties that have a higher FODMAP content according to the research:
- Creamy french-style cheese portions (for example Laughing Cow spreadable portions)- 1 triangle (22 grams) is low FODMAP; 2 triangles (40 grams) is moderate FODMAP.
- American orange cheese – 1 slice of deli-style cheese (28 grams) is low FODMAP; 2 slices (53 grams) is moderate FODMAP.
- American white cheese – 3/4 of a slice (16 grams) is low FODMAP; 1 slice (21 grams) is moderate FODMAP.
- Cottage cheese – 2 tablespoons (40 grams) is low FODMAP; 4 tablespoons (80 grams) is moderate FODMAP.
In conclusion, it’s great news for all you cheese lovers with IBS! Contrary to popular belief, cheese can indeed be enjoyed in moderation while still adhering to the low FODMAP diet. Cheese is generally low in FODMAPs due to its minimal lactose content after the fermentation process. Hard cheeses, like cheddar, parmesan, and Swiss, are particularly safe options as they contain very little lactose. Even soft cheeses, such as brie, camembert, and even cottage cheese are considered low FODMAP when consumed in small amounts.
It’s important, however, to be mindful of portion sizes. While cheese might be a suitable addition to your low FODMAP menu, eating too much can lead to higher intake of FODMAPs. Additionally, most cheese has a high fat content, which can also be a non-FODMAP trigger for IBS symptoms. Additionally, individual tolerance levels vary, so it’s a good idea to keep a food diary and note how your body responds to different types and quantities of cheese.
As with any dietary adjustments, consulting a registered dietitian is recommended to ensure that your specific nutritional needs are being met. This is especially important when considering any kind of elimination diet, like the low FODMAP diet.
Cheers to a happy tummy and satisfied taste buds!
Low FODMAP Cheese Recipe: Grilled Cheese!
Now that you know all about low FODMAP cheese, it’s time to get cooking! Who doesn’t love a grilled cheese sandwich? This recipe is a spin on the classic grilled cheese using one of my fave low FODMAP cheese options – brie cheese! Brie is a mold-ripened cheese and although it’s soft, its lactose content is very low due to the aging process.
Brie cheese has a mild flavor on its own and pairs really well with more punchy flavors. In this low FODMAP grilled cheese recipe, I’ve paired brie with balsamic vinegar, strawberries, and basil for a bit of acidity, tarteness, and freshness.
How to Make Brie & Balsamic Strawberry Grilled Cheese (Low FODMAP)
Start by slicing about 1 cup of strawberries and adding them to a medium bowl. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon of maple syrup and 1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar. Stir well to cover all the berries.
Roughly chop about ¼ cup of packed fresh basil and slice brie cheese into ¼ inch slices.
Time to assemble the sandwiches!
Start by spreading butter on the sourdough – just one side of each slice. This will be on the outside of each sandwich to help with browning the bread once it’s grilled. Start with one slice of sourdough. On the non-buttered side, evenly spread some balsamic strawberries, followed but some chopped basil. Lay the sliced brie evenly across the top. Close the sandwich with another slice of sourdough – buttered side outward. Repeat to make 4 sandwiches.
Heat a frying pan over low-medium heat. Grill the sandwiches for about 2 minutes per side or until golden brown and brie is starting to melt. Serve hot! For some extra veggies, try serving this with a low FODMAP caesar salad or an umami sesame cucumber salad.
Brie & Balsamic Strawberry Grilled Cheese (Low FODMAP)
- 1 cup sliced strawberries
- 1 tbsp maple syrup
- 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
- 8 slices sourdough bread or gluten free bread of choice
- ¼ cup chopped fresh basil
- 150 grams brie cheese, sliced into 1/4 inch sliced
- margarine or butter
- Slice strawberries and add to a medium bowl. Add maple syrup and balsamic vinegar. Stir well to cover all the berries.
- To assemble sandwiches: Butter one side of each slice of sourdough. This will be on the outside of each sandwich to help with browning the bread. On the non-buttered side, evenly spread some balsamic strawberries, followed by some chopped basil. Lay the sliced brie evenly across the top. Close the sandwich with another slice of sourdough – buttered side outward. Repeat to make 4 sandwiches.
- Heat a frying pan over low-medium heat. Grill the sandwiches for about 2 minutes per side or until golden brown and brie is starting to melt. Serve hot!