Can You Eat Goats Cheese On A Dairy Free Diet?
A dairy free diet has changed the lives of millions around the globe. From smoother digestion, to clearer skin, many have already discovered the incredible health benefits of binning the blue cheese.
However, removing cheese from your diet can be more complex than initially thought. We usually think of cow-based dairy products as milk; sour cream; cream cheese, etc. After all, cow’s milk is the most accessible form of dairy in most Western countries. However, we can suddenly be confronted with some questionable chevre at a fancy restaurant.
So, can you eat goat’s cheese on a dairy-free diet?
Yes you can. Well, sort of – it depends on why you’ve dropped dairy in the first place. Let’s break down the science behind a dairy free diet.
Milk is an incredibly rich blend of nutrients, capable of feeding and nourishing a growing baby. Mammalian milk contain no less than 2,350 metabolites! This includes proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals. Some of these are lost through the cheese production process, whilst others remain.
Digesting Dairy Inside Our Bodies
Digestion is the process through which we turn that tempting grilled cheese into building blocks for our muscles, organs, hair and teeth. There are two major health reasons for avoiding dairy:
- Lactose intolerance
- Milk protein allergies
Both issues are uniquely distinct from one another, and I’ll address each seperately.
First, let’s delve deeper into the murky world of dairy digestion.
When you drink a glass of milk, digestion begins as soon as you take a sip. As your saliva begins the process of digestion, the food makes its way down the oesophagus to the stomach. Here, the real digestion begins.
The Biology Behind Digesting Milk Proteins and Lactose
Pepsin breaks down milk proteins into smaller strings of amino acids; lingual lipase starts that process with milk fats into lactose. From there, it’s the small intestine that takes front and centre stage.
Lactase-phlorizin hydrolase is the enzyme responsible for reducing lactose into glucose (glucose is vital, as it gives your cells energy to repair and rejuvinate). The enzyme hangs out in your small intestine, and attaches itself to the lactose carbohydrate in milk.
Lactose cannot be absorbed into the body without first being broken down. If this process fails, then it’s at this stage that lactose intolerance begins to cause havoc.
As the undigested lactose is passed through the large intestine, gastro-intestinal symptoms arise. It’s thought that the undigested lactose is partially broken down by bacteria in the gut. This produces small amounts of carbon dioxide, similar to the fermentation process, and can create a storm of unpleasant symptoms. Many report bloating, gas and general discomfort when they’ve consumed over 12g of lactose (roughly a glass of milk).
However, cheese contains far less lactose than milk.
Goats Milk Being An Easier To Digest Alternative
A soft goats cheese – aged for only 4 weeks – contains roughly 0.1g of lactose per 100g of cheese.
This is because, as softer cheese ages over time, bacteria are constantly breaking down the remaining lactose. The longer a cheese is aged, the less lactose is in the final product.
In fact, this is the case for harder cheeses, too: a Cheddar-style cheese that has been matured for 18 months will contain trace amounts of lactose.
So, if you’re on a dairy-free diet due to lactose intolerance, you will likely be able to enjoy goat’s cheese without discomfort.
If you’re allergic to milk, however, I’ve got bad news for you.
If You’re Allergic To Milk Diet – Then It’s A Different Story (unfortunately)!
Milk allergy is distinct from lactose intolerance. Instead of your body struggling with lactose (which is a carbohydrate), milk allergy launches an immune system response to certain milk proteins. Symptoms include runny nose, sneezing, and itchy eyes; choking, gagging, vomiting, stomach cramps, and diarrhoea.
Milk protein allergy is common in babies, as their bodies have not yet developed a fully-fledged immune system. Thanks to this, their digestive tract views certain casein molecules – which make up roughly 80% of cow milk protein – as a foreign protein.
Casein is chock-full of amino acids, which are vital to muscle growth. It’s one major benefit of cheese in your diet!
Recent research has indicated that there are two different types of casein protein: A1 and A2. A1 molecules cause far greater havoc to sensitive stomachs, it appears, than A2 Casein.
A1 Casein, upon entering the small intestine, breaks down into beta-casomorphin-7 (BCM-7). This compound is not yet fully understood, but some evidence suggests that BCM-7 is a trigger agent for milk allergies, and a risk factor for type 1 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.
Though both proteins have been found in milk cheeses, certain animals have higher A1 or A2 content. Holstein Friesen cattle, for example, hold A1 casein in their milk.
Goat’s cheese is primarily formed of A2 casein, which is more hypo-allergenic. Goat’s cheese is lower in casein overall, with more fat – rich in caproic, caprylic, and capric acids (that’s what gives it the distinct tangy flavour).
However, the two forms of casein are still under strict scientific scrutiny. As more research is conducted on the complex landscape of digestion, it’s – for now – best to cut all cheese consumption from those of us with milk allergies.
You Are Not Alone If You Are Allergic to Milk
Milk is the third most common food allergy in the US. And, whenever an allergy is triggered, there’s the undisputable risk of anaphylaxis. This is where the immune system drastically over-reacts to a potential trigger, and puts the body into a state of severe distress. Anaphylaxis is a medical emergency, and so – no matter how tempting the cheese – it is not worth the risk.
Fundamentally, goats cheese is still a dairy product. If you’re on a dairy-free diet, it may just be simpler to treat goats cheese the same as cows cheese. It’s important to note that your body treats the two animal products differently, however. Ultimately, prioritising your body’s health is a fantastic choice, as paying close attention to your diet has been proven to lower your risk of mortality from all causes.