Did you know that 10.6 billion pounds of cheese were produced in 2011 in the United States alone? Cheese is a major part of our diets, and it does get a lot of bad press. It’s addictive or fattening. It’s a problem for our digestive systems and gives us bad dreams.
We hear about all the bad. Really, it’s the way we eat it that causes it to be bad.
Sure, there are some people who do struggle to eat it. There are people with dairy and cheese intolerances. They may have lactose allergies, which leads to them needing specialist foods. But none of that takes away from many of the great health benefits that cheese offers.
It’s time to look at all the amazing health benefits from cheese and why you should add it to your diet, as long as you don’t have a digestive issue with it.
Why All the Bad Press?
Why is it that cheese is labeled the bad ingredient? As I’ve said, it’s from the way we eat it. Think about how you tend to include cheese in your diet: on pizzas, over nachos and with fat-bursting beef burgers. It’s no wonder that eating it can lead to health problems.
The cheese isn’t the bad part of the diet, but when mixed in with everything else, all the health benefits just disappear. The good gets muddied by the negatives of everything else.
It also doesn’t help that we tend to eat far too much of it. It becomes a staple of every single meal we have. It can even be used as a dessert and added into snacks.
So we need to look at ways of including it into our diets in better ways. Rather than having cheesy pizzas and opting for cheesy dips for our crackers, why not try:
- Having small cubes with fruit?
- Opting for a few slices with a salad?
- Enjoying a few cubes with vegetables for a snack only?
When you get it right, you’ll really see a difference to your health. What you once thought you couldn’t stomach, you may even find that you can eat in moderation.
If you are lactose intolerant, it may actually be the type of cheese you need to change. Cheddar and Swiss cheese have very little lactose in them. Some are even specially made to include many of the benefits but none of the negatives that cause dietary problems. If you’re really in doubt, talk to your dietitian to discuss your cheese options to start enjoying it again.
So, here’s a look at all the health benefits that comes from cheese when you get it just right.
Stop the Calcium Deficiency
Men and women both struggle to get calcium in the diet. It’s surprising considering the amount of foods that are great calcium sources.
When we think about calcium, our minds instantly jump to milk and yoghurt. But we tend not to get that much of either during the day. In fact, they’re not among the best sources of calcium. Dark leafy greens and cheese are fully of it. And it tends to be easier to get both of these in our diets than getting milk and yoghurt.
Why is calcium so important? Well, for one it helps to fight against osteoporosis. This is a major condition that affects people in older age, especially women after menopause. Our bones get weaker, and we’re more prone to breaks. We may feel pain as we walk more, and find that we’re just not as fit as we used to be.
Calcium helps to keep the bones strong. It can help us fight against the signs of aging, making sure we’re able to tackle everything we want to do during our days.
And it’s not just great for our bones. Calcium is great for keeping the teeth and gums strong. We’re less likely to lose our teeth as we get older, as the roots are fully protected. Sure, calcium doesn’t do it all for us, but it definitely helps protect our smiles.
The amount of calcium you will get does depend on the type of cheese. While you have less lactose in Cheddar, it has 204mg of calcium, compared to the 175mg that you’d get from the same amount of American cheese!
Creating the Building Blocks for Our Muscles
As well as the calcium, cheese is full of protein. Both of these components go hand in hand when building a strong body. The calcium works on the bones, and the protein works on the muscles. In fact, protein is the building block for our muscles, so we definitely need to get plenty of it!
Cheese is a great source of it, and you really don’t need that much. It will depend on the type, but you can get 7g of protein on average from an ounce of cheese. This is typical of Cheddar and Mozzarella cheeses, but you could get 8g of protein from Swiss cheese.
Having those building blocks for the muscles will help to protect them in your everyday life. You know that the base of anything is essential for the rest of the building work. You couldn’t build a house on weak foundations and expect a strong tower, would you? Well, why expect a strong body when building on a weak muscle base?
It’s not just the muscles that benefit from the protein either. It’s the building blocks for our skin, organs and tendons. It creates the framework for absolutely everything in our bodies.
We need around 46g of protein on a daily basis (54g for a man). This is if we follow a sedentary lifestyle, which if we’re honest many of us do. We spend hours in front of computer screens and on couches, without really meaning to. Those who use their muscles more will need more protein.
By the way, it’s not just about getting enough protein. We need to make sure we get the right type, and cheese provides that for us. It’s an animal protein, which has the right balance of amino acids for our body. Animal protein also comes from eggs, meat and fish.
And all that bad press about the weight gain from cheese isn’t completely true. Remember it’s about the way the cheese is eating. Protein actually helps us lose weight because we feel fuller for longer. By getting the right type of cheese in the right way, we fill up our stomachs and allow our bodies to digest slowly, so we eat fewer calories throughout the day.
If the protein and calcium weren’t good enough benefits for you, what about the ability to fight against the cavities? That’s one of the biggest benefits of cheese, and why so many dentists recommend it as a healthy snack for children.
The things we eat during the day tend to have a lot of acids. We just have to think about natural pH levels in fruits like oranges and pineapples, and the acidity levels in soft drinks. While some of the foods are said to be healthy for our bodies, they’re not the greatest for our teeth.
This is where the cheese comes in. You see, cheese has alkaline properties, helping to balance out the acid in the mouth and create a neutral pH level. This is excellent for the teeth, as it means there is less in the mouth to damage the enamel on the teeth.
Many dentists now recommend giving children some cheese after a fruity snack. They know that the mouth’s pH level will balance out, meaning that the teeth and gums are protected until it is time to brush the teeth.
Cheese can also be used with a sugary juice if parents decide to give that to their children. The cheese helps to remove the sugar from the mouth, meaning that it doesn’t stick and work through the enamel—or any gaps that have formed. It can also help to protect the gums from any sugars that are in the mouth.
You only need about a third of an ounce to get all the cavity-fighting benefits in your cheese. It also doesn’t tend to matter what type of cheese you eat!
It’s worth pointing out that eating cheese doesn’t mean you stop brushing your teeth. Food particles will still get into the teeth, and you’ll need to protect the teeth from the bacteria that grow because of these particles. The benefit is just in the balancing of the acidity in the mouth.
Unfortunately, depending on the cheese, you can end up with stinky breath. You’ll need to think about this if you’re going out for a meal. But at least there are options for you.
Lowering the Risk of Cardiovascular Disease
This is one of those health benefits that is heavily debated. There’s no definitive answer but there are studies that show cheese as part of a healthy diet can actually help to reduce the risks of developing cardiovascular disease.
The studies are based on the Mediterranean diet and all the health benefits that come from that. After all, this diet is full of cheese, especially feta, mozzarella, and halloumi.
To benefit from this really will depend on the way that you include the cheese in your diet. When the people in the Med use it, they focus on adding raw cheese to their diets or bake it in vegetable dishes. They’ll include a lot of healthy oils and foods with their cheese, including olives, olive oil, and fish.
It’s not just the cheese on its own that helps to create a healthy lifestyle. This is about the diet overall, and you need to mimic that if you want to lower the risks of developing cardiovascular disease in the future.
By the way, it’s not just the Mediterranean diet that has proven beneficial. The DASH diet also includes cheese and has proven excellent for those with high blood pressure. Cheese has helped to lower the risks of hypertension, which means you’re at a lower risk of developing conditions linked to this.
So, the heart and lungs benefit overall. Not only are you lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease, but lower the chance of having a heart attack or stroke. Your overall health is fully protected, and that means you can live longer and feel healthier.
You will need to keep it to moderate amounts. Cheese does include some fat—as well as all the proteins and calcium. If you eat too much, you run the risk of outdoing all the good and causing heart problems.
If you currently have hypertension, do limit your cheese intake. Unfortunately, the sodium and cholesterol levels can be relatively high. Stick to the recommended amount or discuss this with your doctor to make sure you put your health first.
Reduce the Calories You Eat
Your weight loss efforts will be much easier when you add cheese to your diet. Yes, really!
We’ve already looked at how the protein in the cheese can help. You consume fewer calories because you don’t feel the need to eat as much. It really helps to offer you a healthy, filling snack.
At the same time, the number of calories you consume in the cheese will be low. It’s much better than a bar of chocolate or a packet of crisps! It’s even better than some high-fibre options, like granola or muesli bars.
Depending on the type of cheese you eat, you’re only consuming around 100 calories per ounce. Cheddar is one of the worst regarding calories (114 per ounce), while mozzarella is one of the best (coming in at 72 calories per ounce). So, not only are you encouraged to eat less because you’re getting more protein, you’ll end up consuming fewer calories from your snack or in your meal anyway!
The recommended amount of cheese per day is around two ounces. With the calorie figures in mind, you’re looking at around 200 calories. That’s two-thirds of the amount pregnant women are encouraged to consume on top of their usual calories while they are in their third trimester. If you are pregnant, you can get your extra calories from your cheese and focus on health benefits for you and your baby!
When it comes to ordering dessert in a restaurant, why not opt for the cheese platter instead? This will help your weight loss efforts, without you feeling like you’re missing out. Your friends won’t constantly ask about your diet or about why you’re no fun anymore, and you get to benefit in many ways other than stopping the expanding waistline.
Most cheese boards also come with some fruit. Not only are you benefiting for your waistline, but you’re putting your health first by getting more vitamins and minerals.
Nutrients Packed Into Something So Small
Good things come in small packages, and that is the case with cheese. Another great health benefit of adding more into your diet is that you get food that is jam-packed with nutrients. Whether you need more potassium or want to focus on some vitamin B12, this is the ingredient for you.
Your body needs a lot more than you think. Potassium is essential for the overall health. It keeps the metabolism working and supports the organs. You reduce your risk of stroke, heart attacks, and even kidney disease. It supports the protein in building the muscle, and you’ll even get help from the nervous system.
It can be difficult to get potassium in your diet. Bananas are often viewed as the main source, but you can get plenty from your cheese. American cheese, for example, as 48mg of potassium in an ounce, while you can get 28mg from Cheddar.
And that’s really not all. Vitamins A, B12, and D are all present in the ingredient in good amounts. They’re not as large as many other foods, but you’re still contributing to your daily needs. The vitamin D is enough to help the calcium in the cheese absorb into your body.
Then there are the amounts of folate, magnesium and phosphorus within the cheese. These are nutrients that tend to be forgotten about, but are all important for various reasons. Folate—or vitamin B9 as it is also known as—helps with the development of the nervous system in babies. It is useful for the repairing of the DNA strands, helping to support healing and avoid abnormalities. You may know of a type of folate called folic acid, which is highly recommended for pregnant women to take to help support their baby’s growth.
Magnesium is useful for helping to treat nervous conditions and anxiety. It helps support the muscular health, including preventing spasms. There are even links to protecting heart and brain health while supporting the energy levels. We need around 350mg of this mineral per day, and we can get around 28% of that from an ounce of cheese alone.
And what about phosphorus? Well, this isn’t restricted to one category, like many other nutrients we’ve looked at. This doesn’t just help with the bone formation but also supports the digestive system and urination. It helps to balance out the levels of uric acid within the bladder while helping to clear up any stomach upsets, constipation and loose stools. Just 1,000mg is recommended for adults on a daily basis, and an ounce of cheese can give you around 140mg of that. Some cheese, like Swiss, will give you 160mg.
Are you still really making excuses not to eat cheese? Well, it’s a good job there are two more health benefits to look at, isn’t it?
Give Your Gut the Good Bacteria It Needs
Our bodies need bacteria. It doesn’t matter what you say, this is a fact stated by health professionals. Yes, you think that bacteria are all bad, but that really isn’t the case. There are good bacteria out there, and this is in cheese.
You may think that the cheese is the reason for your upset tummy, but there are high chances that it was the way that you ate the cheese. Or it could have been the type of cheese you ate.
Cheese is good for the gut, and I’m about to prove that to you right now.
That good bacteria I’ve just mentioned? Well, the bacteria are needed by the gut to fight against the bad stuff—the bacteria that is causing your gut and digestive problems.
If you’re currently on antibiotics, this will offer you more benefits. Antibiotics are designed to kill any bacteria. They don’t discriminate between the good and the bad, so you end up losing all those that are good for you. When you eat cheese, you can add the good bacteria back in and focus on supporting your gut.
The good bacteria help to fight against the growth of some yeast and fungus in the cut, such as Candida. These yeasts and fungi can end up causing stomach cramps, urinary tract infections, and even vaginal yeast infections. They can also make it harder for the body to absorb all the nutrients from the food we eat.
The best thing we can do is support our bodies and prevent the yeasts from forming. Making sure there are enough good bacteria there is one of the best things to do.
Most cheese will offer you the benefit of good bacteria, but those mouldy and Blue cheeses tend to be the best. You will need to consider your own dietary requirements, though. These mouldy cheeses can kick off allergies that you suffer from, including mould allergies, so you’ll want to switch to other types.
Help to Support Your Fitness Efforts
Cheese is one of those snacks to add to your fitness meal plan. We’ve already gone into all the protein benefits, but this is also great for athletes. There are also fat benefits that just can’t be ignored.
Sure, fat in large amounts is bad, but our bodies still need some. Cheese in moderate amounts is good for you when it comes to this. Our ancestors ate around fat around 75% of the time with their diets, and we’ve dropped to as little as possible. The difference was the type of fats—and the amount our ancestors did. We need to get fats that don’t saturate too much, and cheese can offer that. There are some saturated fats to look out for, which is why moderation is essential.
Wait, how does all this support our fitness efforts?
Well, protein is needed for muscle building. When you’ve done a workout—both cardiovascular and weight—you need to get plenty of protein to help repair the damage you did to your body. Sure, it’s not usually majordamage, but your body still needs to repair. Muscles build by tearing and breaking and then rebuilding stronger. So you can support that by eating cheese and getting more protein in your diet.
The fats are also important. Fats will support the protein in building muscle while keeping the rest of our bodies healthy. It’s because of the fats that our immune systems work properly (along with antioxidants and vitamin C), and our skin remains moisturised and soft (of course, we can help that through other natural remedies). The fats help to protect our organs, while also supporting the brain and keeping the cells growing and working.
As we push our bodies, the fats help us become fitter and healthier. And having a mentally fit self is just as important as having a physically fit self, right?
On top of all this, cheese tastes amazing. We love it and end up wanting more. Whether we have it right there or save it for later in the day, the chemicals in our brain get a boost. We release more happy hormones around the body, and that helps our fitness efforts. We want to do more. There is more of a push to go for those runs or get to the gym. We’re willing to push ourselves harder when we’re out there.
And you know that this does? We feel happier and healthier with ourselves. The fitness boosts the happy hormones even more. And then we look forward to the cheese again and get another boost.
Even if the cheese does have fat, we can still benefit through fitness. We can keep some of the weight gains at bay and help to fight against some of the negatives.
What If You Are Dairy Intolerant?
Okay, so you’ve heard about all these health benefits of cheese, and now you’re stuck. You want to benefit but you just can’t because of your dairy intolerance or your lactose allergy. You’re struggling because your diet says no.
If you’re dairy or lactose intolerant, there is some great news. Yes, it really is possible. All it really means is that you need to focus on certain types of cheeses.
We’ve already looked at that fact that some cheeses don’t have that much lactose in them. Most of the hard cheeses are great options. Stay away from the Brie and the Camembert, and focus more on the American and Cheddar cheese. Even Swiss cheese is going to be a better option for you than the softer ones.
How does that work when milk creates cheese? Well, remember that bacteria that I said were in the cheese? This is the part that helps to get rid of the lactose. The bacteria eat up the lactose, getting rid of it. So all you’re left with is the nutritious goodness.
Having a dairy allergy may be a little trickier. It will depend on your specific dietary needs. If you are in doubt, do check with your doctor or dietician. You may be able to try a small amount and see how you do with that. Just keep a food diary and don’t put your stomach under too much duress.
Are There Healthier Options?
Not all cheese is made the same. We’ve discussed this when we look into the amount of calcium, nutrients, and even calories are in each of the cheeses. There are going to be certain types of cheese that will offer more health benefits that others; where you can eat more of them than other types.
Don’t just judge by the labels that say “low-fat” or “low-calorie” cheese. They’re not the best, as they may continue more sugars, more fat to saturated fat ratios, and even less protein. They don’t always work out better for you overall.
The Mediterranean cheeses tend to be the better ones to go for. They also work well being cooked and baked. Hard cheeses tend to have more saturated fats in them due to the way they are made. Those soft cheeses from Europe can be great, but they do take some getting used to at times. They tend to have stronger tastes, and they may not be the best if you suffer problems with some lactose.
Cream cheese is one of the worst varieties for you. It has all the taste but little of the goodness.
It’s not always about the type of cheese you eat but the way that you eat it. If you’re going to put it on fatty foods, it’s definitely not going to be healthy for you! Try making some sauces or opt for crumbling it over your salads.
Enjoy Your Healthy Food
Who would have thought that healthy food could taste amazing? Did you ever imagine that cheese could offer you so many health benefits? These are even all the benefits—just the greatest ones available. And there are still studies into the ingredient to see if there are any other ways our bodies benefit from it.
It’s time to enjoy the food you eat and know that it’s good for you. When you eat cheese in the right way and in the right quantities, you will support your body with all the vitamins and minerals it needs. You’ll get the good bacteria your gut requires while supporting the framework to build upon.
What’s your excuse for not eating cheese?