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Cheese Guide for Lactose Intolerance

What Is Feta Cheese?

Feta cheese is the most famous Greek cheese, and it is renowned around the world.

Unlike most other cheese varieties, producers cure Feta in a saltwater brine, in which the cheese is also packaged and stored.

Feta has a soft and grainy texture, and it has a slightly sour and tangy taste due to the brine.

The texture is similar to ricotta cheese in that both these cheese varieties are soft and crumbly, but the flavor is very different.

The cheese also has somewhat unique flavor characteristics since it is produced using either sheep’s milk or a mixture of sheep and goat milk.

In terms of appearance, feta is a white cheese, and it is possible to find it sold in blocks or small cube-shaped pieces.

Feta is a popular culinary cheese too, and it features as an ingredient in a wide range of recipes.

Traditional Feta recipes used unpasteurized milk, but in the present day, the majority of Feta cheese is pasteurized.

Protected Designation of Origin (PDO)

Feta cheese has a protected designation of origin (PDO). PDO is a scheme in the European Union designed to protect traditional foods and drinks from a particular region (1, 2).

This PDO was awarded to Feta in 2002, and it designates that the name ‘Feta’ can only be used for cheese within the EU that meets the following conditions (3):

  • The cheese follows traditional production practices.
  • It should be made 100% from sheep’s milk or a combination of sheep and goat’s milk. The maximum allowable proportion of goat milk is 30%.
  • The Feta should come from traditional production regions within Greece.
  • A certifying body must thoroughly check the cheese and its compliance with the PDO terms.

Key Point: Feta is a Greek white cheese. It is cured in brine, primarily made from sheep’s milk, and it has a tangy taste.

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2. Perhaps, Gluten?

Gluten is a group of protein that can normally be found in grains, such as wheat, rye, barley, and oats.

Although gluten do not naturally present in the milk, some processed cheese products such as mozzarella sticks, or cheese additive with added ingredients (such as vinegar or cellulose) will have a certain amount of gluten. Read more.

Your feta cheese might not be just feta in it, especially the flavoured feta.

This data is from the USDA food database. Look at
This data is from the USDA food database. Look at the ingredients used. Some of them are containing a trace amount of hidden gluten.

If you allergic to gluten, make sure to check the label before you buy. Choose the feta cheese that only contain milk, starter cultures, enzyme, and salt. That’s it.

The symptoms for gluten allergy including:

  • Bloating
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Headache and feeling tired
  • Weight loss

Learn more about gluten intolerance here.

Cheese Is Still OK for Some Lactose-Intolerant

For some people who have determined they are only lactose intolerant, cheese can be eaten. This is because lactose is primarily in the whey, not the curds. When cheese is being made (with the exception of some soft cheeses that contain whey, like ricotta) the whey (liquid) is discarded and the lactose goes with it.

Why is feta cheese liquid?

Coming to the rescue is the brine, the cloudy liquid that feta cheese is often packaged in. When feta is exposed to the air, the cheese starts to dry out and the flavor becomes sharply sour. You can easily save the remaining cheese by making your own brine.

Storage and Food Safety

Like most other cheeses, feta cheese should be stored in the refrigerator to preserve freshness. It is often stored in a sealed container as well, to prevent molding or loss of moisture. There is often a “use by” date written on the container, however, a good rule of thumb is to throw it away one week after it has been opened.

How Long Do Leftovers Last In the Fridge?

What does cheese do to your digestive system?

Cheese contains lactose, a sugar that can‘t be digested by lactose intolerant people because their bodies lack the enzyme that breaks it down. In these cases, too much lactose can lead to digestive problems including gas and bloating. Cheese is also a calorie-dense food.

Macronutrients Comparison

Macronutrient comparison charts compare the amount of protein, total fats, and total carbohydrates in 300 grams of the food. The displayed values show how much of the daily needs can be covered by 300 grams of food. Protein 85%

129%

Carbohydrates 4%

0%

Fats 98%

138%

Causes of Lactose Intolerance 

Lactose intolerance occurs when your small intestine doesn't produce enough of an enzyme (lactase) to digest milk sugar (lactose). Normally, lactase turns milk sugar into two simple sugars — glucose and galactose — which are absorbed into the bloodstream through the intestinal lining.

If you're lactase deficient, lactose in your food moves into the colon instead of being processed and absorbed. In the colon, normal bacteria interact with undigested lactose, causing the signs and symptoms of lactose intolerance.

There are three types of lactose intolerance—primary, secondary, and congenital or developmental. Different factors cause the lactase deficiency underlying each type.

Symptoms of lactose intolerance

Lactose intolerance causes some easily recognizable symptoms. If you’ve just eaten dairy products and have any of the following symptoms within 30 minutes to two hours after eating, you may be lactose intolerant.    

  1. Bloating
  2. Flatulence
  3. Diarrhea 
  4. Nausea
  5. Vomiting  
  6. Abdominal cramping
  7. Indigestion
  8. Belching 

These symptoms all happen because the small intestine can’t properly digest the sugar in dairy products. As a result, bacteria in the colon ferment the undigested lactose, causing a buildup of gas and water. Adults and children will experience many of the same symptoms if they’re lactose intolerant. It’s very uncommon but still possible for infants to have lactose intolerance. 

For infants and children, both breast milk and milk-based formulas contain lactose. If parents believe an infant might have a lactose intolerance, they should consult their pediatrician and consider eliminating dairy from diet (if breastfeeding) or switching to non-dairy infant formula. Parents should discuss their concerns with their pediatrician before eliminating foods from their children’s diet to ensure adequate nutrition and growth.

Sometimes lactose intolerance is confused for a milk allergy in young children, but being allergic to milk is a very different thing. Children with milk allergies may develop hives, wheezing, a runny nose, diarrhea, or abdominal cramping.  

Nutritional Benefits of Feta

Based on the nutritional profile and production process of Feta, the cheese may have several benefits.

An Excellent Source of B Vitamins and Calcium

As shown in the nutritional values, Feta cheese is a rich source of B vitamins (particularly riboflavin and B12).

These essential vitamins play a vital role in energy production, maintaining healthy cells, and overall growth and development (12, 13).

The Lactose Intolerance Diet

In the past, it's been standard practice for people with lactose intolerance to avoid all dairy products.

But experts now recommend that you keep some cheese, yogurt, and even milk in your diet.

If you do consume a dairy product, try to do so with other foods, as this helps to slow down digestion, giving your body more time to break down the lactose.

It's also very important to make sure you maintain a nutritionally well-balanced diet.

Milk contains numerous vital nutrients, including calcium, protein, and vitamins A, B12, and D.

Therefore, you should make sure to supplement your diet with foods enriched with these nutrients — especially calcium and vitamin D — if you're on a lactose free-diet.

Without enough calcium or vitamin D, you may develop osteoporosis late in life, a medical condition in which your bones become brittle and fragile.

To maintain healthy bones, children and adults require 1000 to 1300 milligrams of calcium and 600 to 800 international units of vitamin D each day, depending on age and sex.

There are several "lactose-free" products that are sources of calcium and/or vitamin D:

  • Soy, almond, rice, and coconut milk
  • Sardines
  • Salmon
  • Collard greens
  • Kale
  • Broccoli
  • Spinach
  • Fatty fish (tuna, mackerel, and salmon)
  • Fish liver oil
  • Calcium-fortified orange juice
  • Almonds

Vitamin D can also be obtained through sun exposure.

If you’re concerned you are not getting adequate amounts of calcium, vitamin D, and other essential nutrients found in dairy, talk to your doctor or work with a registered dietitian.

Dietary supplements can also help you obtain the recommended amount of nutrients you may be missing while on a lactose-free diet.

The amount of lactose you can tolerate is often determined by trial and error, but almost everyone — regardless of whether or not they are lactose intolerant — needs to keep dairy proteins in check.

These strategies can help you manage dairy in your diet:

  • Try dividing your daily lactose intake into four-ounce to eight-ounce servings and spacing them out during the day.
  • Solid food slows down emptying of the stomach and allows extra time for lactase to break down lactose. For example, have a small glass of milk along with a full lunch.
  • Lactase tablets help digest lactose and are available over-the-counter. You can also opt to drink a brand of milk that contains pre-digested lactose, such as Lactaid.
  • Yogurt with live and active cultures is low in lactose and may not give you any problems. The bacterial cultures in yogurt pre-digest lactose, making it a suitable food for many people with lactose intolerance.

The more dairy protein you eliminate, the more you need to add in dairy-free foods that are rich in calcium and other nutrients.

Lactose intolerance treatments

Managing this intolerance is usually a matter of making diet changes, but some medications may be helpful.

Diet changes

Many doctors agree that the best way to treat an intolerance is to avoid consuming lactose to begin with. Lactose is in dairy products and non-dairy products, so reading food and medication labels is important.

Foods that are high in lactose include:

  • Cow’s milk
  • Goat’s milk
  • Breast milk and milk-based formula
  • Ice cream
  • Half and half 
  • Some yogurt (Greek yogurt has less lactose)
  • Dry milk powder, milk solids, and milk by-products
  • Cheese, especially soft cheeses (Parmesan, Swiss, and cheddar have less lactose)
  • Cream cheese
  • Cottage cheese
  • Heavy cream
  • Buttermilk 
  • Condensed milk
  • Sherbert
  • Coffee creamers 
  • Butter
  • Ghee
  • Whey 

Non-dairy sources of lactose:

  • Medications
  • Instant foods
  • Margarine
  • Salad dressings
  • Processed grains

Checking food labels is the best way to see whether or not a packaged food item or medication has lactose in it—the label will read “dairy-free” or “lactose-free.” Even small amounts can be difficult to digest, and some foods might cause more symptoms than others.  

Barry Sears, Ph.D., author of The Zone Diet series says some foods have less lactose in them than others. For people who can’t tolerate any lactose in their diet, Dr. Sears recommends lactose-free milk products as a source of high-quality protein. Health food stores will typically carry these types of foods, and regular grocery stores are starting to stock up on things like lactose-free milk as consumer demands go up. Substitutes have become quite trendy. In the milk aisle, you might find soy, rice, almond, coconut, macadamia, and oat milk alternatives.

If you’re concerned that taking dairy products out of your diet will mean you’re not getting enough vitamin D or calcium, you can try adding other foods into your diet. “Milk” isn’t necessary outside of infancy, so it’s very possible to supplement with other products. Fatty fishes, eggs, mushrooms, green leafy vegetables, and nuts are all great sources of calcium and vitamin D. 

“For some, eating yogurt is low enough in lactose not to cause problems,” Sears says. “Hard cheese is much lower in lactose, and lactose-free dairy products have no lactose at all.” The best way to determine which foods cause the most trouble for you is to eliminate all sources of lactose for a week or two, and then add them back in one at a time.  

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