Skip to main content

How (and why) parmesan, pecorino romano, gruyere, and asiago cheeses may help with digestive issues

How hard cheeses might actually help your digestion

Parmesan cheese Stock

Cheese makes everything better – from salads to sandwiches and everything in between. Yet many people with digestive issues like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or lactose intolerance tend to shy away from cheese for fear of stomach upset. But not all cheeses are created equal. Many people do not know that different cheeses are categorized as soft or hard.

Soft cheeses such as ricotta or burrata cheese are creamy and delicious, but they contain high amounts of lactose, which can lead to many uncomfortable digestive symptoms. On the other hand, hard cheeses such as Pecorino Romano or Parmesan contain very little lactose, which makes them easier to digest. Certain hard cheeses also contain probiotics that can actually help improve gut health. Below, we’ll dive into everything you need to know about consuming cheese with GI issues and which types of cheeses may be best for your digestion.

Assorted sliced cheeses
Public Domain Pictures / Pixabay

Hard, aged cheeses vs. soft cheeses

You may not need to avoid cheese entirely if you suffer from lactose intolerance or other GI issues. Every person will respond differently to consuming different types of cheese, so you may need to experiment to figure out which cheeses don’t upset your stomach. The first thing that is important to understand is that lactose, also called milk sugar, can be especially difficult to digest for people with digestive conditions. People with lactose intolerance do not have enough of the enzyme lactase in their bodies, which is required to break down this milk sugar.

Unlike soft cheeses such as ricotta, which have high amounts of lactose, cheeses that are hard and aged generally have a lower lactose content. During the aging process, lactose is reduced, leaving the cheese with only trace amounts of lactose remaining. For this reason, aged, hard cheeses are often considered easier to digest.

cheese wheel
Mark Stebnicki / Pexels

Hard cheeses for digestive issues

These hard cheeses are the best choices for easy digestion and even contain good bacteria that can help improve your gut health. For any cheese, it’s important to consume it in moderation to avoid worsened symptoms.


Parmesan cheese is a hard Italian cheese that has a rich, slightly nutty flavor. This complex, aged cheese is often found in grated or shredded form and is the perfect addition to nearly any dish – from Caesar salad to a topping on a hearty slice of pizza. Parmesan cheese must be aged for at least a year, helping remove its lactose content. Not only is this type of cheese super low in lactose, but it also contains helpful lactobacillus bacteria that can actually support good gut health.

When shopping for parmesan cheese, be mindful of the product quality to ensure you’re getting 100% parmigiano-reggiano and not a blend of other cheeseses or fillers. Fillers used in pre-packaged shredded cheese, such as cellulose (wood pulp), may worsen digestive health.

Pecorino Romano

Pecorino Romano is another dry, hard cheese that is similar to Parmesan. Both cheeses are aged and salty and so similar that they are often substituted in recipes. The difference between these two cheeses, however, is in the type of milk used to make them. Pecorino Romano is a cheese that is made with sheep’s milk, while Parmesan uses cow’s milk. Parmesan also undergoes a longer aging process which makes the taste a bit more nutty.

This cheese is also nearly lactose-free, making it a great option for people with lactose intolerance or trouble digesting dairy products. Pecorino Romano also contains healthy bacteria strains that can help support a healthy microbiota.


Gruyère is a semi-hard cheese that is made from cow’s milk with a slightly nutty taste. Although similar to regular Swiss cheese, this cheese variety is a bit stronger, which makes it a great choice for certain dishes like tarts, gratins, and quiches. This cheese was first made in the town of Gruyère, Switzerland, where its name came from.

Since the lactose in this cheese is broken down during the aging process, many people with lactose intolerance find this cheese to be easy to consume. Even better, the natural bacteria Lactobacillus Helveticus that is found in Gruyère cheese may even help reduce inflammation in the gut and improve digestive issues.


Asiago cheese is another lactose-free hard cheese, similar to Parmesan or Pecorino. This type of cheese has a sharper, nuttier taste, making it a great choice to add to pasta dishes or soups. Asiago was first produced in Italy, requiring at least five months to age to perfection. There are actually two types of asiago – asiago d’allevo and asiago pressato. These are both similar but have slightly different tastes, as the d’allevo variety requires a slightly longer aging process. For people adhering to a low FODMAP diet, the d’allevo variety may be better tolerated.

swiss cheese board
NastyaSensei / Pexels

Finding cheeses that support your gut health

If you’ve been avoiding all cheese, try experimenting with small bits of hard cheeses that contain limited lactose. Some people may find these cheeses can be safely and comfortably added to their diets in moderation. Every person’s gut flora and health are completely different, which means there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to consuming cheeses with a digestive condition. Trial and error can help you learn which cheeses are best for you.

Emily Caldwell
Emily is a freelance writer with a special focus on health, fitness, lifestyle, food, and nutrition topics. She holds a B.S…
What foods are high in iron? These staples will help you live a healthier life
Add these high-iron foods to your shopping list today
Ribeye caps topped with garlic and herbs cooked in a cast iron pan over charcoal.

What foods are high in iron? We all know that iron is important for a healthy, balanced diet, but did you know you can find two different kinds of iron in food: heme and non-heme. Your body can absorb iron from heme (animal-based) food better than from non-heme (plant-based) food sources. Where can you find heme food sources? Read on to find out about foods high in iron.

If you eat a plant-based diet, you’ll get a lot of non-heme types of iron. As a result, your body might need a bit of help to absorb it properly. Sometimes vitamin C can aid with the absorption of plant-based kinds of iron. Regularly consume both plant and animal-based sources of iron to get the best of both for your body. 
What is iron?

Read more
Learn about these 14 amazing benefits of spinach
Health, nutrition and more, spinach has a positive affect on it all
Baby spinach in a bowl

We all know that spinach is one of the healthiest foods on the planet. The superfood qualities of this dark, leafy green vegetable aren’t just reserved for fictitious heroes like Popeye the Sailor Man; we all can enjoy the health benefits of spinach by incorporating it into our diets.
Even if you’re not a salad person, there are plenty of ways to eat spinach. From steaming it and adding it to sandwiches to pureeing it in smoothies or tossing it to wilt into sauces, spinach is nearly as versatile as it is healthy. If you need some extra motivation to eat your vegetables, keep reading for a list of the many benefits of spinach.
Spinach (Spinacia oleracea) is a popular dark, leafy green vegetable used in numerous global cuisines. Perhaps since spinach originated in Persia, it is especially prominent in dishes native to the Middle East, Mediterranean, India, and Southeast Asia. Interestingly, spinach belongs to the amaranth family, so it’s related to foods like chard, beets, and quinoa.
There are a variety of benefits of spinach, which can be categorized into nutritional benefits, health benefits, and practical benefits.
Nutritional benefits of spinach
Spinach is packed with vitamins and minerals. Some of the top nutritional benefits of spinach include the following:

Spinach is low in calories
One cup of fresh spinach contains only 7 calories, making it a nutrient-dense but not calorie-dense food. Spinach can be consumed in abundance without significantly affecting your caloric intake, so it’s a great food to support healthy weight loss and weight management.

Read more
Benefits of ginger: 6 reasons why you should add it to your grocery list today
Learn how ginger could be an essential superfood for your diet
Ginger on cutting board.

All over the world,ginger is consumed in many ways; these include as a spice, in teas and soups, and more! No matter how you choose to enjoy the superfood, it cannot be denied that there are many benefits of ginger. Due to its anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and antioxidant properties, there are six significant ways that ginger can positively affect your health.

It doesn’t require a lot of ginger to make a difference, either! Three to four grams of ginger daily is optimal for the average healthy adult. Any more than this can lead to gastrointestinal distress and heartburn. So as long as you stay within the guidelines, you can include ginger in your diet in various ways and reap the many health benefits it provides.

Read more