Saturday, December 4, 2010

PUT DOWN THE PROCESSED CHEESE AND WALK AWAY! Lactose Intolerance and Cheese

Did you know that even if you are lactose intolerant, you can still have yummy and delicious cheese?

I was just speaking to my friend on facebook about the fact that my ability to happily digest milk has been waining. As I move into adulthood, I am apparently one of those people that is going to loose my ability to drink milk, due to my bad genes.

She complained that she wished she could eat cheese because she is in fact lactose intolerant.

The thing is... thats just not true. She CAN still eat cheese. In order to right this wrong I had to write a blog post so I can declare to her, and all you lactose intolerants out there, that cheese is still a friendly gut lover, even if milk is evil.

I think that I originally learned about all of this from an episode of Alton Brown's Good Eats.

Basically, how it works is that milk has lots of lactose in it. As we age some of us loose the ability to digest lactose (there are other causes as well). The reason this occurs is because as children get older they no longer need to be able to digest milk because they are no longer nursing.

Historically, lactose tolerance evolved based on exposure to milk. In populations where people were herders of milk-giving animals they were constantly exposed to lactose and needed to rely on milk as a source of calories, etc.  Therefore, lactose tolerance levels remained high, the bodies learned to continually process lactose. In other populations, the need to gain sustenance from lactating animals just wasn't there. No sheep, no cows, no goats... no lactase.

However, THIS is the cool part...
Aged cheeses should be safe for most lactose intolerant people.

The reason being that the bacteria, lactobacillus, which is present in all cheese,  eat the lactose in cheese and turn it into lactic acid. Lactic acid is easy for all humans to digest, unlike lactose (in fact, that burning in your muscles when you try to lift an incredibly large wheel of parmagiano reggiano, is lactic acid your body produces). Basically, the longer a cheese ages, the longer the time the bacteria have to eat the lactose, the less lactose. Voila! Its safe.

It is important however to note that processed cheeses, no matter their age, have more lactose than artisan cheeses. Some even have added lactose. So, PUT DOWN THE PROCESSED CHEESE, AND WALK AWAY. Go immediately to your artisan cheese shop and get a big old hunk of aged, unprocessed fromage.

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