Cheese may set off your IBS symptoms, but why? There are many reasons why cheese can trigger digestive issues. Is it the natural sugar lactose, or is it the high fat content, or the high histamine triggering your bloating, gas production or diarrhoea.
Cheese is so delicious, and something people who enjoy it struggle to avoid eating! But maybe you don’t have to give it up completely if you have Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
Benefits of cheese for people with IBS
Before I explain how cheese might be bad for IBS, let’s look at some of the benefits of eating it (apart from the taste!)
Cheese can be a good source of protein as well as key nutrients like calcium.
- Protein – We should all aim to eat at least around 50g of protein daily. Cheese can help you meet these targets. For example, 50g of cheddar cheese might give you around 10-12g of protein.
- Calcium – important for bones, teeth, nails we should aim for 700mg of calcium each day. Calcium is often low in people with IBS due to restrictive diets.
- Fats – many people I work with want to put on weight, and cheese can be a good way to do this if you need high energy density foods.
However, due the high saturated fat content and it’s impact on heart health all cheese should only be eaten in moderation, as part of a balanced diet.
How does cheese affect your digestion?
Cheese is fairly low in lactose compared to other dairy foods such as milk, yoghurt or ice cream. This is especially true for harder cheeses like cheddar or parmesan.
Fats can slow down digestion, so independent of lactose levels, eating a lot of cheese could give you IBS symptoms.
This is because eating a high fat meal causes gas to travel more slowly through the gut, which could create more cramping and pain.
Does cheese cause constipation?
There is no concrete link between cheese and slower bowels, or hard to pass stools. Some studies have shown the including 1-2 portions dairy in your diet can actually reduce the odds of constipation compared to those who ate less than 1 portion a day.
However, some people will be very sensitive to lactose, or the high fat content, and may find IBS-C symptoms worsen when you include cheese in your diet. It’s best to start with a small amount, and change nothing else if you want to start trialling eating cheese again.
Does cheese cause diarrhoea?
Some people with a high lactose sensitivity may experience loose stools after eating any dairy foods. You may find you struggle break down the fats well, due to a lack of lipase.
Lipase is an enzyme produced in the small intestine, and this production can be impaired by SIBO. Sometimes, after resolving the SIBO you can digest more foods, including cheese.
- LISTEN to my podcast episode on Dairy and IBS – Ep 19 of the Inside Knowledge podcast
Join my Group Gut Reset for IBS
Is cheese ok to eat if you have IBS?
Whilst lactose in cheese can trigger IBS symptoms, it may also be down to the high fat content. Even a low lactose cheese can cause IBS flare ups if eaten in excess.
But cheese may be ok in small portions for many people with IBS. You don’t need to go completely dairy free.
High fat foods and IBS
High fat content of cheese can trigger diarrhoea for people with bile acid issues. Bile is released when we eat, to help emulsify the fats so they can be absorbed and used in the body. However issues with bile acid reabsorption can trigger diarrhoea in some people.
- Read more about Bile Acid Diarrhoea in my blog post.
Fat can also sometimes slow down digestion, causing gas to be inside your intestines for longer.
Aged cheeses such as blue cheese, cheddar or parmesan are higher in histamine. Histamine develops naturally as part of the aging process, and in some sensitive individuals can trigger gut symptoms, or allergy symptoms such as itchy nose, eyes, wheezing or skin rashes.
- Read more about histamine sensitivity.
What’s the best cheese for people with IBS?
Most cheese is low FODMAP at a portion of around 40g. You may tolerate more than this in one meal, but if you aren’t sure yet follow the low FODMAP reintroduction process.
- Cottage cheese – A 40g portion will give you 4.4g protein, increasing to 60g/3 tbsp will give a moderate lactose portion. Low in fat.
- Camembert – A low FODMAP portion of 40g includes 8g protein & 155mg calcium
- Feta – A 40g portion is low FODMAP and provides 6.5g protein and 197mg calcium. Feta is usually made from a mix of sheep and goat’s milk.
- Cheddar cheese – High in calcium, a low FODMAP 40g portion give you 10g protein. 288mg calcium per portion.
- Mozzarella – One 40g portion gives 11g protein, 292mg calcium.
- Blue cheese – Very low in lactose due to the aging process but higher in histamine
You may not have an issue with lactose, or any FODMAPs, so if you have IBS, it’s best to test your tolerance using the low FODMAP diet intervention.
If you want help figuring out your IBS triggers, start your Gut Reset with me over 3 months to find a diet that works for you. Just set up a free call to discuss what you need some help with. Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Hi I'm Anna Mapson, registered Nutritional Therapist.
I can help you to:
- understand your digestion better, so you recognise your triggers
- eat a well balanced diet, with tasty meals that are simple to prepare
- develop better digestion and more energy
Find more about my 3 month 1:1 Gut Reset programme
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