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Lactose-free cheeses review: Do they taste like the real thing?

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For the more than seven million Canadians who are lactose intolerant, eating a cheesy slice of pizza can come with a whole host of unpleasant side effects.

Lactose is a milk sugar found primarily in milk and dairy products, and your body requires an enzyme known as lactase to break down lactose into other, simpler sugars.

People who don’t have enough lactase in their small intestine are lactose intolerant.

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“If [lactase] is lacking, lactose will not digest and instead move into the large intestines, where there is a lot of bacteria,” said registered dietitian Andrea Falcone. “If lactose is undigested here, it can get fermented by the bacteria, letting off hydrogen and methane gases, [which lead to] symptoms of lactose intolerance.”

In turn, consuming lactose can cause gas, bloating, diarrhea and abdominal cramping, although symptoms vary widely from person to person.

“If someone thinks they have lactose intolerance, they should seek support from a health-care provider to help assess the symptoms and consider an elimination test of foods with lactose,” Falcone said.

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“They can then work on re-introducing the foods with lactose while being monitored for their symptoms at the same time.”

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Someone who is lactose intolerant may still be able to consume things like hard cheeses or yogurt with active bacterial cultures, but it depends on the person.

“If you have severe lactose intolerance, you want to look for ingredients… such as milk, or milk byproducts, lactose, dry milk powder or dry milk solids, curds and whey,” said Falcone.

“These type of ingredients could even be hidden in products we may not normally associate with lactose or dairy, like bread, cereal or waffles and pancakes.”

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Most often, lactose intolerance requires a diet with few to no milk products. This can be cause for concern, since dairy products have such vital nutrients and vitamins.

“Lactose-free products simply have the lactose removed, or [they are] made with a soy-based alternative,” said Falcone. “These types of items have most of the same nutrients, vitamins, minerals and protein as regular milk products so the difference is minimal.”

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If you’re most often reaching for non-dairy alternatives, you need to make sure you’re supplementing your diet with the vitamins you’re missing.

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“It’s best to understand reading food labels to ensure certain nutrients, like calcium, zinc and protein… are still included in the diet,” Falcone said.

“Alternatively, if someone is removing most of the milk and dairy products from their diet, you should review your whole diet with a dietitian to ensure nutrient [requirements] are being met.”

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Giving up delicious products like milk, cheese and cream can be hard to do. Luckily, there’s a growing number of lactose-free cheeses available in grocery stores across Canada — but do they remind us of the real thing?

Below, the Global News lifestyle team reviews five of the most popular and widely available lactose-free cheeses on the market.

President’s Choice lactose-free old cheddar (Illustration by Laura Whelan)
President’s Choice lactose-free old cheddar (Illustration by Laura Whelan)

WINNER: President’s Choice lactose-free old cheddar

Available at: Loblaws
Price: $5.89
Product specialty: Lactose-free
First thoughts: The general consensus from the team was that, out of all five options, the President’s Choice lactose-free old cheddar was the closest to actual cheese. Specifically, the scent and texture were much more cheese-like than the other products.
Does it resemble “regular” cheese? A resounding “yes!” from all reviewers.
What would it be good for? Nachos, grilled cheese, on crackers, in sandwiches —  pretty much wherever you use “normal” cheese.
Would you buy it? Everyone said they would buy this product. 
Score out of 5: 
5

Nuts for Cheese smoky artichoke and herb cultured cashew product (Illustration by Laura Whelan)
Nuts for Cheese smoky artichoke and herb cultured cashew product (Illustration by Laura Whelan)

Nuts for Cheese smoky artichoke and herb cultured cashew product

Available at: Whole Foods
Price: $12.99
Product specialty: Dairy-free, gluten-free, vegan
First thoughts:
Laura Hensley: “It’s a weird colour and it comes off [on the knife] way too fast.”
Sarah Kelsey: “It’s a weird colour but it’s tasty.”
Arti Patel: “There is a lemon undertone, which I appreciate.”
Does it resemble “regular” cheese?
The flavour resembles that of a “regular” cheese, but the texture is closer to a spread or very soft cheese and the colour is off-putting. 
What would it be good for?
On bagels, toast or crackers as a spread. 
Would you buy it? Three out of five tasters said they would buy this product.
Score out of 5: 
3
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Daiya smoked gouda style farmhouse block (Illustration by Laura Whelan)
Daiya smoked gouda style farmhouse block (Illustration by Laura Whelan)

Daiya smoked gouda style farmhouse block

Available at: No Frills
Price: $5.99
Product specialty: Dairy-free, soy-free
First thoughts:
SK: “It has a strong smell and it’s a bit spongy but it’s OK.”
LH: “It looks grey and smells odd.”
Meghan Collie: “The texture is a bit too tofu-like for me, but the taste is quite similar to a ‘regular’ gouda.”
Does it resemble “regular” cheese? AP: “It doesn’t smell so much like cheese but it has a cheese texture.”
What would it be good for? Its harder constitution might make it good for use in sandwiches, melted on pizza or for cooking.
Would you buy it? One out of five tasters said they would buy this product.
Score out of 5: 
3

Earth Island mozzarella flavour cheese alternative (Illustration by Laura Whelan)
Earth Island mozzarella flavour cheese alternative (Illustration by Laura Whelan)

Earth Island mozzarella flavour cheese alternative

Available at: vegansupply.ca
Price: $7.69
Product specialty: Dairy-free, vegan, 84 per cent organic
First thoughts:
LH: “It looks like rubber and smells like plastic.”
Katie Scott: “It’s wet and slimy [with] a jiggly texture.”
AP: “It doesn’t smell or look like cheese, and it has a bad aftertaste.”
Does it resemble “regular” cheese? No, everyone agrees this product is closer to a spongy tofu than “regular” cheese.
What would it be good for? None of the tasters could identify a good use for this product.
Would you buy it? No one said they would buy this product.
Score out of 5: 
1
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Fauxmagerie Zengarry double crème creamy cultured cashew wheel (Illustration by Laura Whelan)
Fauxmagerie Zengarry double crème creamy cultured cashew wheel (Illustration by Laura Whelan)

Fauxmagerie Zengarry double crème creamy cultured cashew wheel

Available at: yamchops.com
Price: $12.19
Product specialty: Dairy-free, gluten-free
First thoughts: 
KS: “It looks like hummus.”
SK: “It’s weird-looking but good-tasting.”
AP: “The colour is very off-putting but it has a cheese taste.”
Does it resemble “regular” cheese’? This cheese more resembles a hummus or cream cheese due to its extremely creamy texture. However, the taste is very similar to a mild brie, which is nice.
What would it be good for? LH: “On crackers, it’s not too bad… It’s nice with jam. It tastes similar to a cream cheese.”
Would you buy it? Three out of five tasters would buy this product.
Score out of 5: 
3.5

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