Taking a Closer Look at Cheese
I love cheese! And I am not alone. In fact, virtually all households buy cheese because they love how it tastes, alone or with other dishes. My favorite is sharp Cheddar paired with crackers, fruit, and a good wine – but I like all types of cheese – Swiss, Gouda, mozzarella, provolone, blue… The more I learn about cheese – its variety, versatility, nutritional benefits, and those who make it – the more I appreciate it.
According to archaeological experts, people have been making cheese in Northern Europe for up to 7,500 years, likely using fermentation in cheese as a way to preserve and transport milk. Since the first cheese making company opened in the U.S. in 1851, the amount and variety of cheeses eaten by Americans has continued to grow – with more than 400 varieties, types, and styles now available. American artisanal cheeses easily stand on equal footing with their counterparts in Europe, winning top prizes in international competitions.
While some may discourage cheese consumption based on its fat content, we should keep in mind that cheese in moderation can be part of a healthy eating plan meeting total fat, saturated fat, and sodium recommendations. Cheeses of varied fat content are available, allowing people to make trade-offs in the amount and source of fat in their eating plans.
In addition, a recent comprehensive review of cheese and cardiovascular disease risk, concluded that eating cheese may not increase risk of cardiovascular diseases.
The review evaluated 28 human studies (observational and clinical trials) for the relationship between cheese consumption and cardiovascular disease or its risk factors (i.e., cholesterol, blood lipids). Most of the observational studies reviewed reported no association between eating cheese and cardiovascular disease risk and some even found an inverse association.
Evidence from the four clinical trials in healthy adults that were evaluated indicated that cheese may have a lesser impact on cholesterol levels than is suggested by its saturated fat content (Biong, 2004; Tholstrup, 2004; Nestel, 2005; Hjerpsted 2011). To discover why this might be the case, researchers are investigating whether other components of cheese, such as calcium, protein, conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) or fermentation may counterbalance the effect of saturated fat on cardiovascular disease risk.
Here are several other reasons to consider including cheese in eating plans:
- Many cheeses are an excellent source of calcium and a good source of high-quality protein and phosphorus, nutrients demonstrated to support bone health.
- Cheese can be an important source of calcium, especially for those who are lactose intolerant. Many cheeses, particularly natural cheeses – such as Cheddar, Swiss, Colby, and Parmesan – contain minimal amounts of lactose.
- Cheese can benefit oral health. Dairy foods like milk, cheese, and yogurt contribute calcium, phosphorus and vitamin D that likely play a role in dental health, as recognized by the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry and the American Dental Association.
- Cheese contributes about 8 percent of the sodium that Americans eat.