If you have lactose intolerance and are craving Cabrales cheese, you may be wondering if it’s a good idea to snack on it.
Let’s just say it’s a good thing you stopped by! We spent days scouring the Internet for facts and scrutinizing our conclusion, so you don’t have to. Read on to find out if Cabrales cheese contains lactose and whether or not you should ea3t it if you are lactose intolerant.
Most of the lactose in milk is contained in whey, the liquid that remains after the milk is curdled and strained. Still, most cheeses — including Cabrales cheese — retain some percentage of lactose. And depending on the recipe and the aging, this percentage may or may not be compatible with lactose intolerance.
Cabrales cheese has a lactose content from 0% to 2.50%.1Carper, S. (n.d.). Lactose Percentages of Dairy Products. Steve Carper’s Lactose Intolerance Clearinghouse. https://web.archive.org/web/20210506042254/http://www.stevecarper.com/li/list_of_lactose_percentages.htm It’s considered a low-lactose cheese that can generally be enjoyed by people with lactose intolerance with little to no gastrointestinal discomfort.
Cabrales cheese isn’t the only low-lactose blue cheese out there. Other blue cheese varieties similarly low in lactose include Stilton, Roquefort, Danablu, and Gorgonzola.
As a cheese matures, the bacteria in it eat away at the lactose and break it down into lactic acid. So the older the blue cheese, the lower its lactose content, and the more suitable it is for the lactose-intolerant eater.
What Is Lactose, Anyway?
Lactose is the simple sugar found in milk (and consequently contained in Cabrales cheese).
Sugar is found in many foods, from apples to honey to cheeses. However, not all sugars are the same.
Depending on their structure, sugars can be classified as monosaccharides, disaccharides, oligosaccharides, and polysaccharides.2Ouellette, R. J., & Rawn, J. D. (2015). Organic Chemistry Study Guide. Elsevier.
- Monosaccharides, like fructose, galactose, and glucose, consist of one unit of sugar (one molecule). Think of them as building blocks for all other types of sugar.
- Disaccharides, like lactose, maltose, and sucrose, of two units of sugar.
- Oligosaccharides consist of two to nine units of sugar (technically, disaccharides are oligosaccharides).
- Polysaccharides consist of ten or more units of sugar.
Lactose — the “milk sugar” contained in Cabrales cheese — is a disaccharide made of one unit of glucose and one unit of galactose.3Sollid, K., RD (2021). What Is Lactose? Food Insight. https://foodinsight.org/what-is-lactose/
Monosaccharides and disaccharides are known as “simple sugars.”
Oligosaccharides that consist of three or more units of sugar and polysaccharides are known as “complex sugars.”
The body digests simple sugars quickly and gets an immediate energy boost from them. Complex sugars are digested slowly and provide the body with a slow and steady stream of energy.4(2018). Carbohydrates. American Heart Association. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/nutrition-basics/carbohydrates
What Causes Lactose Intolerance?
Lactose intolerance is the state of discomfort caused by the body’s worsened ability to digest lactose, the milk sugar found in Cabrales cheese.
All sugars are a source of energy. But to turn most of the sugars in our food into energy, our bodies first have to break them down into their building blocks, monosaccharides.
Lactose is a disaccharide consisting of glucose and galactose. So, to digest it, the body has to break it down into one unit of glucose and one unit of galactose. It does this by producing an enzyme called “lactase” in the small intestine.5(2022). Lactose intolerance. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/lactose-intolerance/symptoms-causes/syc-20374232
And this is where lactose intolerance, the dread of many a Cabrales cheese lover, comes in:
As babies, our bodies produced plenty of lactase because our only food was breast milk. As we got older, we moved on to other foods, so our bodies no longer needed to produce as much of this enzyme. So we developed lactose malabsorption, a worsened ability to digest lactose.6(2018). Definition & Facts for Lactose Intolerance. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/lactose-intolerance/definition-facts
Lactose intolerance is the result of lactose malabsorption.
Lactose intolerance is not the same thing as milk allergy and it isn’t dangerous.7(2019). Lactose Intolerance. Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/7317-lactose-intolerance But its symptoms can nevertheless be uncomfortable and distressing.
You can have lactose malabsorption and still not be lactose intolerant. But when the amount of lactase in your small intestine gets too low, you develop lactose intolerance, so you get farty, bloaty, or get the runs when eating Cabrales cheese.8(n.d.). Lactose Intolerance. Johns Hopkins Medicine. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/lactose-intolerance
Does Everybody Have Lactose Intolerance?
If you loveCabrales cheese but often have to pay a high price to enjoy it, know that you are not the only one.
Research shows that 68% of people in the world have lactose malabsorption.9Storhaug, C. L., Fosse, S. K., & Fadnes, L. T. (2017). Country, regional, and global estimates for lactose malabsorption in adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis. The Lancet Gastroenterology and Hepatology. https://doi.org/10.1016/S2468-1253(17)30154-1 However, not everyone who suffers from lactose malabsorption has such low lactase enzyme levels in the small intestine that they develop lactose intolerance.
Lactose intolerance is inherited through genes and can be triggered by a number of risk factors.
According to the Mayo Clinic, the risk factors for lactose intolerance include age, ethnicity, preterm birth, diseases affecting the small intestine, and certain cancer treatments (specifically, radiation therapy or complications from chemotherapy).
The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, part of the United States National Institutes of Health, indicates that African Americans, American Indians, Asian Americans, and Hispanics/Latinos are most likely to suffer from lactose malabsorption and potentially develop lactose intolerance.
The Bottom Line: Cabrales Cheese and Lactose Intolerance
Cabrales cheese contains 0% to 2.50% lactose, which makes it a low-lactose cheese that lactose-intolerant cheese lovers can enjoy worry-free.
- 1Carper, S. (n.d.). Lactose Percentages of Dairy Products. Steve Carper’s Lactose Intolerance Clearinghouse. https://web.archive.org/web/20210506042254/http://www.stevecarper.com/li/list_of_lactose_percentages.htm
- 2Ouellette, R. J., & Rawn, J. D. (2015). Organic Chemistry Study Guide. Elsevier.
- 3Sollid, K., RD (2021). What Is Lactose? Food Insight. https://foodinsight.org/what-is-lactose/
- 4(2018). Carbohydrates. American Heart Association. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/nutrition-basics/carbohydrates
- 5(2022). Lactose intolerance. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/lactose-intolerance/symptoms-causes/syc-20374232
- 6(2018). Definition & Facts for Lactose Intolerance. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/lactose-intolerance/definition-facts
- 7(2019). Lactose Intolerance. Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/7317-lactose-intolerance
- 8(n.d.). Lactose Intolerance. Johns Hopkins Medicine. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/lactose-intolerance
- 9Storhaug, C. L., Fosse, S. K., & Fadnes, L. T. (2017). Country, regional, and global estimates for lactose malabsorption in adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis. The Lancet Gastroenterology and Hepatology. https://doi.org/10.1016/S2468-1253(17)30154-1