Is Cheese Bad For You? A Nutritionist Weighs In
If you like cheese, we have good news—cheese does not deserve its unhealthy reputation. A nutritionist tells us about why cheese can be healthy for us, and all the ways you can elevate eating cheese.
Cheese, for most of us, probably falls under the list of guilty pleasure foods—the idea that the decadent, creamy, delicious dairy product has to be unhealthy seems to be ingrained in our minds. It might be the perfect addition to pastas, soups or salads, but a lot of us stay away from adding cheese to our daily diets because we fear its high fat content or calorie count. “In recent times, cheese has been vilified,” says Shiny Surendran, nutritionist and sports and preventive health dietician with over 21 years of experience. “We are told that cheese is fattening, or to avoid cheese because it increases cholesterol. But you might be surprised to know that none of these ideas are true.”
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Why is cheese considered unhealthy?
The idea that cheese is unhealthy stems from its saturated fat content. Saturated fat, especially dairy fat such as from butter, have been connected to higher LDL (“bad” cholesterol) levels in the past, which increases the risk of cardiovascular diseases. But surprisingly, studies show that the fat content in cheese acts differently, which might be because it is made of short-chain saturated fatty acids. In a study published in 2015 in Food & Nutrition Research, it was found that 8 weeks of daily intake of low-fat and regular-fat cheese by two groups of subjects had no effect on LDL cholesterol, triglycerides or blood glucose. In a meta-analysis of various studies with thousands of subjects published in the European Journal of Epidemiology in 2017, it was concluded that cheese has no effect on increased risk of heart disease, diabetes or mortality.
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The high fat content in cheese is also connected to the idea of weight gain in our heads. But cheese consumption has no effect on weight, concludes a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine that tracked 1,20,877 US adults over several decades. Essentially, cheese has no detrimental effects on your health, and might even be good for you. Here are some proven health benefits of cheese.
Can cheese be good for your health?
1. “Cheese has many important nutritional benefits,” says Surendran. “Cheese is rich in calcium, protein, Vitamin D and Vitamin B12. These nutrients are essential for strong bones and teeth, and also help boost immunity.” Cheese can also help to keep our teeth free of cavities.
2. Far from increasing the risk of heart disease, a 2016 report published in Elsevier found that eating about 40g of cheese daily could contribute to a 18 per cent lower risk of heart disease because of the presence of potassium, magnesium, Vitamin B12 and riboflavin. This is believed to be the explanation behind the popular French paradox—French people have a lower rate of cardiovascular diseases despite having a diet high in dairy fat.
3. Low-sodium cheese can even help regulate blood pressure, says Surendran, because of its high calcium content. These cheeses include cottage cheese, feta, parmesan and goat’s cheese.
4. According to a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, eating about 20g of cheese every day can lower the risk of type 2 diabetes. This is also attributed to its high calcium content, which increases insulin secretion and may reduce insulin resistance. The fermentation process of cheese also creates Vitamin K2, or menaquinone, a biochemical substance that is linked to improved insulin sensitivity.
How can you include cheese as part of a healthy diet?
“Eating in moderation is, of course, the key to leading a sustainable and healthy lifestyle,” says Surendran. She suggests the following tips for making cheese a part of your diet:
2. To have a healthy and filling snack, pair cheese up with fruits (peaches, apples, pears and figs) or have it with whole grain crackers.
3. Eat cheese sprinkled on top of your bread, with a side of vegetable stuffing of your choice.
4. Add it as a topping to your salads and pastas, or use it as stuffing for your parathas.
5. Replace commercial mayonnaise dips with homemade cheese ones as they are a lot more nutritionally dense.
6. If you are gluten intolerant, substitute cheese for bread crumbs during baking.
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