Do you enjoy eating cheese? I do. Is cheese healthy? Are some cheeses healthier than others? Should someone who wants to “eat healthier” keep eating cheese? It is always amazing that some people who are interested in “eating healthier” want to give up on healthy foods. Cheese is quite healthy and offers a lot of important nutrients. What are some things you should know about cheese?
How much cheese do we eat? Americans love their cheese. Mostly because of pizza and all the cheese we consume when we enjoy our pizza. Or those grilled cheese sandwiches. According to Marketplace, Americans ate over 34 pounds of cheese in 2015. And that is a whole lot more cheese than we used to eat.
How much fat is in cheese?
Most cheese we buy is full-fat cheese. This means it is made with whole milk that contains about 3.5% fat. Some cheeses, like mozzarella, are made with 2% fat milk. If you read the label on some Mozzarella cheese, some Swiss cheese, you may see, part-skim milk. This would be a cheese lower in fat content.
What nutrients are in cheese?
Cheese provides a very high-quality protein as cheese is made from milk and milk protein is a very high-quality protein. The high-quality protein in cheese provides all the amino acids or building blocks of protein for strong muscles. Cheese is also a great way to add calcium to your diet, a nutrient many people are not getting enough of. Cheese also provides zinc, vitamin A and vitamin B12. But cheese is not usually a good source of vitamin D. I rarely see cheese that provides vitamin D. (So still important to be serving the milk at meals, even if the meal has cheese in it.) Note: If the cheese was made with vitamin D-fortified milk, it would provide vitamin D, but most cheese is not.
Can people who are lactose intolerant eat cheese?
Yes. So many people who are lactose intolerant can easily eat cheese without problems. A sixth grader commented to me that he couldn’t drink milk, it made his stomach hurt. But on pizza day at school, he was the first in line. Why could he eat cheese pizza but not drink milk? A lot of lactose is removed in the whey when cheese is made. Cheeses that are aged, further break down the remaining lactose as the lactose is converted into a digestible form when cheese is aged. Thus, aged cheeses like Cheddar, Parmesan or Swiss cheeses have little or no lactose and should be well tolerated by those who are lactose intolerant. So, if you are lactose intolerant you may be able to sprinkle some Parmesan cheese on your spaghetti and not have any problems digesting this cheese.
What about the saturated fat in cheese?
Many nutritionists and health care professionals recommend we reduce our saturated fat intake because of its link to heart disease. But some research is now showing not all saturated fat is the same. Some are saying the saturated fat in cheese may not be as bad for our heart as say the saturated fat in red meat. A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that full-fat milk or cheese did not increase the risk of heart disease. But they did not decrease one’s risk either. To reduce heart disease risk, people who ate low fat dairy and then replaced the dairy fat with healthier vegetable fats or with whole grain, did decrease their heart disease risk. If saturated fat in cheese is of concern, then choose the part-skim Mozzarella or other part-skim cheeses.
What about American Cheese?
Who doesn’t like a grilled cheese sandwich made with American cheese? Or a cheeseburger? But when choosing American Cheese, make sure it is real cheese. So many times, it is cheese food and not really cheese. Read the package label carefully and avoid words like “cheese product” or “cheese food”. FDA sets the standard for cheese, and to be real “cheese”, the product much contain at least 51% real cheese. If it contains less than the required 51%, then it is labeled, “cheese product”. If you wish to cut back on some saturated fat, choose 2% American cheese. Kraft makes an American Cheese called “Deli Deluxe” that also provides vitamin D. A good choice for those grilled cheese sandwiches you are making for your kids.
What about dairy foods and weight gain?
There is a lot of misinformation about dairy foods and weight. One might think cheese might lead to weight gain. But a study in Nutrition & Diabetes found that people eating the most dairy foods actually had lower body fat and even lower blood pressure than those who ate the least.
Enjoy some cheese this week. Bring some cheese and whole grain crackers to work for lunch or a snack. Make some grilled cheese sandwiches with real American Cheese. Sprinkle some Parmesan cheese on your spaghetti.