Cheddar, gouda, brie, gorgonzola, parmesan. There is a tempting variety for every taste, and recent research shows that all of them can be part of a healthy diet.
Written by Stephanie Clark
Rich and creamy, cheese is irresistible on biscuits, paired with a selection of fresh fruit, or sprinkled over a bowl of chili. There are so many delicious reasons to love cheese, and Americans really love it. An individual consumes 40 pounds per year, or just over 1.5 ounces per day.
As much as we love cheese, we are a little afraid of it. When people talk about their fondness for cheese, it’s often in a way of admitting guilt, such as “Cheese is my weakness.”
But “cheese is packed with nutrients like protein, calcium, and phosphorous, and it can serve a healthy purpose in the diet,” says Lisa Young, associate professor of nutrition at New York University. So if Stilton makes you swoon or you’ve always wanted more Parm on your pasta, know this: Research shows that even full-fat cheese won’t necessarily lead to weight gain or a heart attack. Cheese does not appear to increase or reduce the risk of chronic diseases, such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes, and some studies show that it may be protective.
Why cheese might be good for you
It’s easy to see why people are conflicted about cheese. For years, U.S. Dietary Guidelines have said that eating low-fat dairy products is best because full-fat dairy products, such as full-fat cheese, contain Saturated fat, which can raise levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol, a known risk of heart disease. Cheese has also been blamed for weight gain and Digestive problems Like bloating. However, it turns out that cheese may have been misunderstood.
Yes, they are high in calories: Some types have 100 or more calories per ounce. It is rich in saturated fats. So why is it so good for most people to eat it? “Cheese is more than its saturated fat content,” says Emma Feeney, PhD, an assistant professor in the Institute of Food and Health at University College Dublin who studies the effect of cheese on health.
Old school thinking in nutrition has focused on individual nutrients – such as fats or proteinwhich either promote or prevent disease. It’s not entirely clear that this is the wrong approach, but nutritionists are now focusing more on the whole food and how its structure, nutrients, enzymes and other components interact with each other.
When milk turns into cheese, the process changes the way the nutrients and other ingredients in it are chemically arranged. (See “How to make cheese” below). This has an effect on how it is digested and processed by the body, which may lead to health effects that differ from those of eating the same nutrients in another form, such as butter.
In 2018, Vinnie drove six weeks Clinical trial In the study, 164 people ate an equal amount of dairy fat, either in the form of butter or cheese, and then partially converted during the study. “We found that the saturated fat in cheese did not raise LDL cholesterol levels to the same degree as butter,” she says.
Experts have varying theories as to why the saturated fat in cheese is less harmful. “Some studies show that the mineral content in cheese, particularly calcium, may bind to fatty acids in the gut and take them out of the body,” Feeney says. Other studies suggest that fatty acids called sphingolipids in cheese may increase the activity of genes that help break down cholesterol in the body.
When cheese is made it gains some beneficial compounds as well. “Vitamin K It can form during the fermentation process,” says Sarah Booth, Ph.D., director of the Vitamin K Laboratory at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Jane Mayer Center for Research on Human Nutrition on Aging at Tufts University in Boston. The vitamin is important for blood clotting, bone and blood vessel health.” Fatty, like cheddar or blue cheese, has even more.”
As a fermented food, “raw and pasteurized cheese contains good bacteria that can be beneficial to the human gut microbiome,” says Adam Brooke, vice president of food safety, quality and regulatory compliance for dairy farmers in Wisconsin. (We see “Is raw milk cheese safe to eat?These good bacteria, mostly found in aged cheeses like cheddar and gouda, help break down food, synthesize vitamins, prevent disease-causing bacteria from gaining a foothold, and boost immunity.
Your body on cheese
So cheese may not be a cholesterol concern, it provides important nutrients and can promote gut health. But wait, there’s more good news: Cheese appears to reduce the risk of (really) weight gain and many chronic diseases.
overweight: Cheese is a concentrated source of calories. “That’s why the portions of cheese should be smaller compared to something like milk or yogurt,” says Young of New York University. However, studies show that you don’t need to skip the cheese to keep the scales steady. In one, it was published in The New England Journal of MedicineResearchers set out to identify foods associated with weight gain by following 120,877 men and women in the United States for 20 years, and looking at their weight every four years. While they found that eating more certain foods, such as refined grains (as in white bread), was linked to weight gain, eating more other foods, such as nuts, actually helped with weight loss. Cheese was not associated with gain or loss, even for people who increased the amount of cheese they ate during the study. Another review published in the magazine Molecular Nutrition and Food Research In 2018, it was found that people who eat dairy products, including cheese, weigh more than those who don’t, but those who eat dairy products have less body fat and more fat mass, which is good for health.
One reason cheese helps control weight is that it may reduce appetite more than other dairy products. in the small studyResearchers measured appetite and levels of four hormones that control hunger in the blood of 31 people after they ate cheese, sour cream, whipped cream or butter. Of these foods, cheese caused the biggest spike in two hormones that help you feel full.
Cardiovascular disease: A large meta-analysis of 15 studies published in European Journal of Nutrition that looked at the effect of cheese on cardiovascular disease, and found that people who ate the most (1.5 ounces per day) had a 10 percent lower risk than those who ate none. Other analyzes found that cheese did not appear to affect heart disease risk either way. While many of these studies are observational, meaning they don’t show cause and effect, the research together “suggests that you don’t need to avoid cheese if you’re concerned about LDL cholesterol levels or heart disease,” Feeney says.
Diabetes and high blood pressure: Cheese and full-fat dairy products also appear to be associated with a lower risk of both. in study Of more than 145,000 people in 21 countries, researchers found that eating two servings of full-fat dairy products or a combination of full-fat and low-fat was associated with a 24 and 11 percent lower risk of both conditions compared to eating none. Eating only low-fat dairy products slightly increased the risk. Among people who did not have diabetes or high blood pressure at the start of the nine-year study, those who ate two servings of dairy products were less likely to develop disease during the study.
Lactose intolerance: It can be difficult for some people to digest lactose, a sugar found in milk, which leads to diarrhea, bloating, and other digestive symptoms. But the bacteria used to make cheese digest most of the lactose in milk, says Jamie PNG of the American Cheese Association and a 12-year veteran of cheesemaking. There is a lot of residual lactose in whey, which is separated from the curds at the end of the cheese making process and drained. “This means that many types of cheese contain very little or no lactose,” she says. “I’m a lactose intolerant cheesemaker, and my general rule of thumb is that the more moisture in the cheese, the more lactose.” If you’re sensitive to lactose, stick to hard and/or aged cheeses like cheddar, provolone, Parmesan, blue, camembert, and gouda and reduce fresh soft cheeses like ricotta and cottage cheese. For example, an ounce of cheddar contains about 0.01 grams of lactose while half a cup of cottage cheese contains 3.2 grams. (A cup of whole milk contains 12 grams.)
The healthiest way to eat cheese
If all this news makes you ready to dig in a rush of brie with a spoon, hold on. Although cheese itself does not appear to have negative health effects, how you incorporate it into your overall diet is important.
In much of the research reporting a neutral or beneficial effect, the largest amount of cheese people ate was around 1.5 ounces, but in some cases it was up to 3 ounces. (An ounce of cheese is about the size of your outstretched thumb.)
In some studies, the health benefits of cheese have been found to be greatest when it replaces less healthy foods like red or Processed meat. So there’s a big difference between crumbling some blue cheese on a salad and serving a pepperoni pizza with double cheese. “Incorporating cheese into a Mediterranean-style diet where it also includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and other foods known to lower disease risk, will be most beneficial to your overall health,” Young says.
For those who watch sodium Cheese can be very salty. (The salt acts as a preservative.) If you eat about one ounce a day, that’s not a big concern. Most types give you between 150 and 300 mg of sodium per ounce. (Daily value not more than 2300 mg). Eating more, however, can increase sodium.
The form cheese takes may also affect how it affects health. “Many of the studies on cheese and health use cheese in an unmelted form,” Finney says. “We still don’t know how thawing or cooking affects health outcomes, for example, eating cheese in pizza or in cooked dishes like casseroles.”
Young suggests pairing the cheese with fresh fruits, nuts, or veggies like carrots and red peppers, and a few whole-grain crackers, or eating it on a slice of Whole grain toast Tomatoes on top. When cheese plays the starring role, you can focus on it and enjoy it even more.
Editor’s note: This article also appeared in the November 2022 issue of Consumer Reports.
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