Although I can’t do much to oppose those that refuse dairy in their diets on principal alone, to those that cite lactose as a dietary issue, I might have good news: Many cheeses are naturally lactose-free or very low in lactose.

Lactose is the predominant sugar in milk. It is broken down in the human gut by an enzyme called lactase. Lactase turns lactose into two digestible sugars called glucose and galactose which are released into the bloodstream. Some people, however, have very low levels of lactase. In the absence of lactase, lactose is broken down by bacteria in the large intestine, which releases carbon dioxide as a byproduct—obviously, not a comfortable process for the human body.

Cheese, however, is actually very low in lactose right from the moment the cheese-making process starts. Quite a large amount of lactose is removed when the curds (solids) are separated from the whey (liquid). Whey contains most of the lactose. And the more whey that is removed by pressing, the lower the lactose content. Furthermore, the longer a cheese ages, the less lactose it contains. During the ripening process, bacteria break down the lactose. Yep, that’s the same process that the bacteria in your gut perform to break down lactose, except they do all the work for you before you eat it. (Thanks, bacteria!)