Most cheese starts with the milk from a cow, sheep, goat, or buffalo. Most commercially available cheeses are made using milk that has been pasteurized, a high-temperature process that kills bacteria.
Other cheeses are made from raw milk and contain beneficial bacteria, but also carry a higher risk of foodborne illness. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the risk of foodborne illness (also known as food poisoning) is highest in children, people with a compromised immune system, older people, and pregnant women.
When properly prepared, stored, and consumed in moderation, cheese is healthful for people without allergies. But is cheese gluten-free?
Fast facts on cheese:
- Some types of cheese are less likely to contain gluten than others.
- The healthiest type of cheese depends on an individual’s health needs.
- There are cheeses available to meet different nutrition needs, including full-fat, low-fat, fat-free, and reduced sodium varieties.
The Celiac Disease Foundation lists dairy as a food group that does not naturally contain gluten.
However, according to the Dairy Good, some cheese products may contain ingredients that are a source of gluten.
They recommend reading each food label carefully and contacting the manufacturer for questions about specific products if you are unsure.
The Dairy Good reports that firm, natural cheeses, such as Cheddar and Parmesan, are less likely to contain gluten. See below for a complete list of cheeses that are usually gluten-free.
There is some debate about whether or not certain kinds of blue cheese are gluten-free. It may depend on where the mold is grown.
Any cheese that has undergone additional processing, such as shredded cheese or cheese spread, is more likely to contain gluten. Cross-contamination is also a concern if the same tools or equipment are used to process gluten-containing products.
Certain medical conditions require people to avoid gluten. Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition in which people have damage to their small intestine if they eat gluten. People with a condition called non-celiac gluten sensitivity may also avoid gluten due to gastrointestinal distress or other symptoms.
Beyond Celiac say: “Cottage cheese is usually gluten-free, but some brands may contain wheat starch or modified food starch made from wheat.” Cream cheese does not typically contain gluten. Low-fat, fat-free, and flavored varieties sometimes contain additional ingredients, so label reading is still important.
List of gluten-free cheeses and alternatives to cheese:
According to Beyond Celiac, some varieties of cheese that are usually gluten-free include:
There are non-dairy cheese alternatives, which are usually made from plant sources, such as soy or nuts. Some of these products are gluten-free, but others may contain ingredients with gluten.
A naturally gluten-free alternative to cheese is avocado. Avocados add flavor and a creamy texture to many dishes, such as sandwiches or salads.
Nutritional yeast is another non-dairy alternative to cheese. It can be sprinkled on top of dishes or added to sauces for a cheese-like flavor.
To start the cheese making process, milk is combined with good bacteria. Cheese makers add different bacteria depending on the type of cheese they are producing.
The good bacteria get to work fermenting lactose, a type of sugar naturally found in milk.
Next, an ingredient called rennet is added. Some cheeses also have coloring added at the same time. Rennet helps divide the milk solids and liquids, known as curds and whey.
Stirring and heating also help the mixture separate. Eventually, the whey is drained off, and the next step varies according to the type of cheese being made.
Some curds, such as those being used to make Cheddar cheese, have salt added before being molded into a specific shape. Other curds, such as those being used to make mozzarella cheese, are shaped and then soaked in a salty solution known as brine.
Many kinds of cheese are then aged to allow their unique flavors to develop.
Overall, most people should enjoy cheese made from whole milk in moderation. It is also better to eat natural cheeses over more processed cheeses.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Nutrient Database, 1 ounce (oz) of Cheddar cheese provides 115 kilocalories (kcal), less than 1 gram (g) of carbohydrate, about 6 g of protein, and 9 g of fat. The same amount of Cheddar cheese provides 201 milligrams (mg) of calcium, which is 20 percent of the daily value (DV) for calcium. This classifies cheese as a high calcium food.
Pregnant women need to avoid cheeses made from unpasteurized milk due to the risk for Listeria, a serious foodborne illness. Soft cheeses, such Brie, Camembert, and queso fresco are more likely to be made from unpasteurized milk.
Some cheeses, especially natural, aged cheeses, contain less lactose than others. The amount of lactose a person with lactose intolerance can eat at one time without symptoms depends on the individual.
Cheeses such as Cheddar, mozzarella, Parmesan, and Swiss contain lower levels of lactose than some other cheeses and are better tolerated by people with lactose intolerance.
High blood pressure
People with high blood pressure may be concerned about the salt content of cheese. Processed cheeses and cottage cheese tend to be higher in salt. Low-salt cheeses may be a healthier choice for people with this condition. Softer cheeses, such as mozzarella and ricotta, tend to be naturally lower in salt.
Some cheeses are gluten-free, and others may contain some wheat products. People who cannot tolerate gluten should check all packaging carefully to ensure that the cheese is suitable to eat. There are also gluten-free alternatives to cheese available.