We dug in to understand more about the health benefits of eating cheese. Should we, or shouldn’t we?
I am an Italian-American who succumbed to Celiac Disease later in life, which meant something needed to fill my carb obsession. I turned heavily to cheese. I already ate a decent amount of cheese, so when I really thought about how much cheese I was consuming, I started to dive into research.
I had heard many things about cheese over the years, like your body absorbs the nutrients better from soft cheese than hard, cheese is low in lactose, cheese is difficult to digest, and more.
I wanted to know what was true and what was just made up over the years. I found out, like most things, cheese for most people can be a part of a healthy, balanced diet as long as you eat it in moderation. I will give you the rundown on the pros and cons, so you can decide for yourself how much cheese you want to incorporate into your diet.
The Benefits of Eating Cheese
We know that cheese is a dairy product, and dairy products are known to help with bone health, so is this true?
Cheese is a good source of calcium. Each serving contains about 30g, which can really help you reach the 1,000g you should intake every day as an adult. People under 30 and women post-menopause need to intake enough calcium to ensure their bones do not become frail.
Cheese is a great source of vitamin B12. It is very important that you meet the recommended daily average for B12. It is crucial in making red blood cells and developing the brain and nerve cells. If someone is deficient it leads to tiredness, shortness of breath, weakness, dizziness, and pale skin. B12 comes from animal meat and products. Although meat does contain more B12 per serving, the body is able to absorb it from dairy products more efficiently. Swiss cheese actually contains the most B12 per serving, equating to half of the recommended daily average.
It can also serve as a great source of protein, especially for vegetarians who cannot eat meat or fish. Protein is a part of every cell in our bodies. It not only helps build and repair muscles, skin, hair, and other tissues, but it also helps make enzymes, hormones, and antibodies for our immune system. A 28g wedge of cheddar cheese has 7-8g of protein, this can replace an ounce of fish, fish, or other protein sources.
One of the most interesting things to me is that it actually can improve gut health through bacteria, even though many people think it hurts the gut. The French are looked at in jealousy, at least by me, for the ability to eat cheese and drink wine while staying so healthy. Many thought it was from the antioxidants from red wine, but newer studies are showing that their low levels of heart disease and obesity come from their healthy gut bacteria. Cheese is actually one of the foods that are shown to increase compounds that produce healthy gut bacteria. The live bacteria, or probiotics, found in unpasteurized milk cheese have this effect, but not every kind of cheese will have these effects. The cheese with this effect is Swiss, provolone, Gouda, cheddar, Edam, Gruyere, and cottage cheese. But if you have a compromised immune system or pregnant, soft cheeses contain a bad bacteria called listeria. For people who do not fall into these categories, the problems normally go away on their own and are rare, but it is safer to not eat them if you are in the categories.
The Cons of Eating Cheese
Many people think cheese causes a lot of problems, but does it?
It is higher in saturated fats than other foods, so many people think it will increase your bad cholesterol and risk of heart disease. Yet, many studies have shown that dairy does not affect your cholesterol levels and cardiovascular health as it once was thought it; it may even help reduce your risk. When testing the effects of butter and cheese on the body, cholesterol levels in the subjects who ate butter increased but did not move in the patients who ate cheese. They even tried it with full-fat cheese and reduced-fat cheese, and those who ate full fat actually saw a reduction in their bad cholesterol. Yet, it still contains saturated fat and, when eaten heavily, will increase bad cholesterol.
Cheese is actually one of the top ten contributors to salt intake. When people have a high salt intake, they will have increased blood pressure, leading to cardiovascular and kidney disease. Some cheeses, halloumi, and blue cheese are higher in salt than ocean water, so you should really only eat a small amount. But other cheeses, cottage cheese, cream cheese, mozzarella, and Emmental, have a low salt content, so eat away.
The Verdict on the Health Benefits of Cheese
Cheese has more positives than negatives when eaten in moderation. It not only does not negatively affect you but may have positive health effects on some people. So don’t throw cheese out of your diet, but do ensure that you are not overeating it. Each person’s body reacts differently to foods, so watch the reactions your body has with it and go from there.