Is Cheese Unhealthy?

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Cheese is relatively high in fat and may receive negative attention from health-conscious consumers; however, it can be part of a balanced diet.

Because it is relatively high in fat, cheese tends to have a bad reputation among dieters and the health conscious. It contains higher levels of saturated fat than other foods, which is also why its consumption is discouraged among those concerned about cardiovascular health. That being said, recent research seems to indicate that moderate consumption of cheese is not as harmful to health as once believed.

Cheese and Cardiovascular Health

Full-fat cheese can contain as many as six grams of saturated fat per serving, or nearly one third of the maximum daily allowance that experts recommend to individuals on a 2,000 calorie-a-day diet. Such high levels of saturated fat are especially disheartening, as consuming too much of this unhealthy fat can augment LDL cholesterol levels and lead to cardiovascular disease.

Fortunately, recent research indicates that the fat in cheese may not be as damaging to heart health as it seems. In 2008, researchers for the International Journal of Food Science & Nutrition found that the consumption of dairy fat was not linked to an increased risk of having a heart attack. In fact, their work showed that cheese was inversely associated with the risk of having a first heart attack. Those who ate cheese, then, were actually less likely to have a first heart attack throughout the course of the study.

German and his colleagues, who are researchers for the European Journal of Nutrition, would concur with this finding, as they indicated in a 2009 report that several research studies have shown no link between cheese consumption and heart disease. It seems, then, that dieters and health fiends may eat cheese without the fear of suffering from a heart attack as a result.

Health Benefits of Cheese

The saturated fat in cheese seems to be the focus when studying associations with cardiovascular health, but consumers must also consider the potential benefits of cheese.

Cheese contains significant amounts of calcium, a mineral that is essential for bodily functioning. According to H.E. Theobald, the author of a 2005 study published in Nutrition Bulletin, calcium plays a role in bone density, muscle contraction, digestion, blood clotting, and neural communication. As a part of a balanced diet, cheese can provide consumers with adequate amounts of calcium to maintain healthy bodies.

Cheese can also add significant amounts of protein to the diet, helping the body to build, repair, and maintain muscle tissue.

Healthy Cheese Options

The following cheeses are more diet-friendly than their full-fat counterparts, but they provide the rich taste that cheese-lovers expect.

  • Laughing Cow Cheese: Perfect for dieters, one wedge of this creamy, spreadable cheese contains only 35 calories and 1.5 grams of fat.
  • Mozzarella Cheese: Popular brands of this Italian cheese contain around five grams of total fat and 3 grams of saturated fat.
  • 2 Percent Milk Cheese: Cheese producers such as Sargento and Kraft are presenting consumers with 2 percent milk cheese, which is lower in total fat, saturated fat, and calories than full-fat cheeses.

These lower-fat cheeses provide a better alternative to the health-conscious, but in moderation, even full- fat cheeses can be enjoyed as part of a healthy lifestyle that includes a balanced diet and regular exercise.

References:

  • Biong, A., Rebnord, H., Fimreite, R., Trygg, K., Ringstad, J., Thelle, D., & Pederson, J. (2008). Intake of dairy fat and dairy products, and the risk of myocardial infarction: a case-control study. International Journal of Food Sciences & Nutrition, 59(2), 155-165.
  • German, J., et al. (2009). A reappraisal of the impact of dairy foods and milk fat on cardiovascular disease risk. European Journal of Nutrition, 48(4), 191-203
  • Theobald, H.E. (2005). Dietary calcium and health. Nutrition Bulletin, 30(3), 237-277.

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