Can cheese and healthy eating really appear in the same sentence? I was intrigued by a promotional email sent to me from Artisanal Cheese in New York. It shouted gleefully, “Healthy Eating has never tasted so good!” Well, of course, I’m going to read something like that. Healthy eating AND it tastes good? I’m all in.
They went on to state that “adding cheese to your diet may be the most delicious resolution you make for a healthier you! Cheese is a near perfect food that possesses a range of vitamins and minerals. Plus, it’s a REAL food that goes a long way – just a few ounces leaves you satisfied and full – which means slimming down on cheese may be the most delicious diet you tackle yet!”
Thus began my research for articles discussing the health benefits of eating cheese. We all know that a lot of cheese is high in fat and it’s one of the first things fad diets tell you to obliterate from your desires. But seeing as that I breathe cheese and I dream of opening an artisanal cheese shop someday, it’s not quite a reality for me to disdain cheese. A cheesemonger who won’t eat cheese? Something wrong with that picture.
Yes, you can enjoy cheese, (gasp!) even if you are following a diet. Emerging research has shown that simply reducing dietary cholesterol and saturated fat is not associated with a decreased risk of heart disease. Of course, moderation of these fats is still recommended for serum cholesterol control, but protecting your heart (and brain) has just as much to do with what you add to your diet than what you cut out of your diet.
Eating more fruits, vegetables and whole grains rich in nutrients that keep blood vessels healthy may be even more important.
This is good news because there are a lot of people who love cheese, myself included. It’s also good news because cheese and its nutrients offer health benefits. Many cheeses are excellent sources of calcium and good sources of high-quality protein and phosphorus —three nutrients particularly important for helping to build and maintain bones. Cheese also contributes Vitamin A and zinc and some cheeses are fortified with Vitamin D. When paired with fruits, vegetables and whole grains, it may actually help people eat more of these recommended food groups.
A recent study showed that the visible addition of cheese to various middle school menu offerings may help increase the consumption of fruits, vegetables and whole grains compared with these items without cheese. Scientists at Harvard have identified a component of dairy that may reduce the risk of Type 2 diabetes.
Before you ask for extra cheese on your pizza, it’s best to stick to a small portion of about 1 ounce. Cheese is an energy dense food, which means the nutrition in 1 ounce of cheese comes packaged with between 75 and 100 calories. Three dice cubes is a visual reminder of 1 ounce of natural block cheese. About ¼ cup shredded cheese is the equivalent of 1 ounce.
When paired with fruits, vegetables and whole grains, it may actually help people eat more of these recommended food groups. If you’re looking to lower sodium in your diet, one tip is to choose a cheese based on firmness and age. In general, softer, less-aged cheeses require less salt than harder, aged varieties. Lower-sodium and lower-fat cheeses are also available.
Is this where I say do what I say and not what I do?
I hope not. I promise to heed my own advice if you promise to continue devouring cheese, albeit reasonably.
Oh, how do I hate that word.
More cheese, please….
Resources: 2011 Innovation center for U.S. Dairy and National Dairy Council and 9/1/2011 Newton Daily News article