Can You Eat Cheese If Your Lactose Intolerant?

Milk. I call it liquid death. Drink it and within 15 minutes I’m thinking that death just might be better than how it makes me feel.

For me, milk is a serious slider food that will cause a rather nasty RH reaction. And very quickly too! I gave it up after a series of crashes that left me wondering what the hell was going on. At first I thought I had become lactose intolerant. Which is a possibility for many after WLS. They have all the GI symptoms of intolerance after drinking milk or eating other dairy products. Gut pain, bloating, gas and a whole lot more. Me? Not so much. It seems to cause a serious dumping episode. If you’ve had one you know what I’m talking about. First the heart palpatations kick in. Then the sweating and shakes. That’s a sign that your blood sugar has spiked and is now dropping. If it’s a small drop then the symptoms slowly subside. If it turns into a nasty RH crash then the symptoms just get progressively worse. Ravenous hunger starts accompanied by flashing lights in my vision, uncoordiated movement and not being able to think straight. Like I said, milk is liquid death for me.

Rather than try to explain milk induced gut death I simply tell people I don’t drink milk because I’m lactose intolerant. It seems to be easier to understand. But then they get that confused look on their face when I start eating cheese. That’s made from dairy so it should make me sick as well right? Yes and no.

Cheese plate

WLS induced gut death is caused by the naturally occuring sugars found in milk. Mainly lactose. This is also the same sugar that causes problems for people who are lactose intolerant. They have reduced amounts of the enzyme needed to break down this particular sugar. This is what causes all the GI problems they experience when eating dairy products. While us WLSers may still have enough of this enzyme to do the job the problem is actually caused by our re-routed GI tract. The milk quickly slides through the smaller stomach and hits the small intestines too quickly. The body reacts to this sudden rush of milk sugar ultimately creating a dumping episode.

So, if both WLSers and those who are lactose intolerant have issues with dairy because of the milk sugar why can we usually eat cheese?

When cheese is being made much of the lactose is removed along with the whey when the curds are removed. Even more of the lactose is removed when the cheese is aged. It seems the bacteria used to make some types of cheese use the milk sugar as a source of food. This helps to reduce the amount of lactose present in the cheese.  The longer a cheese ages the less lactose it will have. Here’s some cheese tips for both us WLSers and the lactose intolerant:

– Choose a ripened, aged cheese. These are usually hard cheeses such as cheddar, swiss, parmesan, romano, etc

– Avoid processed cheese (Velveeta anyone?). Not only is this type of cheese not ripened/aged but it also has additional milk solids added to it which makes it even higher in lactose.

– Fresh or unripened cheese such as cottage cheese, mozzarella, cream cheese and queso fresco will contain high amounts of lactose.

– Pay attention to how much cheese your eating. A sprinkly of parmesan cheese on your minestrone soup might not bother you. Eating  several ounce of cheese in one sitting might cause problems.

– For those who have had WLS another issue that might cause problem with cheese is the fat content. High amounts of fat will cause dumping symptoms for some. It might not actually be the lactose in the cheese causing a problem. It could be the fat.

If you find you also have problems with milk and are looking for a suitable replacement I highly suggest Blue Diamond Unsweetened Almond Breeze and Silk PureAlmond Milk. Both companies also have a vanilla flavor that is good to cook or bake with. I’m not a big fan of soy milk but I hear many people do enjoy it. Be careful when purchasing any type of almond or soy milk. Some are unsweetened and others, especially the chocolate flavored ones, have a lot of extra added sugar.

How about you? Have you had problems with milk or dairy products since surgery? Do you just avoid milk or have you been using a milk replacement?

Picture: ulterior epicure

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