Is Cheese Good Or Bad For You?
There is always a debate about whether we should be eating more or less cheese. On the plus side, cheese is an excellent source of calcium and protein, but some cheeses can be high in unsaturated fats and sodium, which in many diets is a big no-no.
However, cheese is also rich in other nutrients like zinc, vitamins A, and B12, which are beneficial to health. A new study has suggested that cheese may not be as harmful to cardiovascular health as once believed. This study indicated that folk who ate cheese regularly were up to 18% less likely to develop cardiovascular disease, and up to 10% less likely to have a stroke, this compared to those who have a very low cheese intake.
Statistics have indicated that in the last 50 years, cheese consumption – of all cheeses, has tripled in the United States. The range of cheeses and flavours available worldwide, has also grown substantially in recent years, including those with a reputation of being specialist cheese makers.
Way back in 1955, the demand for cheese began to increase, and brought on the advent of mass production. At that time, 13% of milk was made into cheese, increasing to 31% by 1984. Today, the percentage of available milk used to make cheese, continues to grow on a global average.
Types of cheese
There are literally thousands of types of cheese, with a litany of different flavours ranging from mild to strong and mature, many of which like garlic, tomato and pepper, are added during the manufacturing process. However, most of the types of cheese, fall into a small number of actual categories. Here are the basic categories most cheeses fall into:
- Low-fat or non-fat cheese. Low-fat is made with 2 percent milk, while non-fat is made from fat-free or skim milk. Some of the cheeses in this category are flavoured while others are not.
- Fresh cheeses. These cheeses are have not been aged, or matured. They fall into the category of having a higher moisture content, a softer texture, and a milder taste than other cheeses. Examples include ricotta, cream cheese, and cottage cheese.
- Whole milk cheese has the highest ratio per serving of saturated fat, and has a natural wholesome taste.
- Aged or mature. This category of cheese is firm in texture, and is usually aged for 6 months or more. According to research, the longer the aging process, the more sharp and pungent the flavour. Cheddar, Parmesan, and a number of Swiss cheeses fall into this bracket.
- Processed cheese, such as cheese spreads, are manufactured with the shelf-life in mind. These products contain additional ingredients such as flavour- enhancers, and preservatives to extend shelf-life. In the US, all processed cheeses have to contain 90 percent of real cheese in the ingredients. It is estimated that the market share of processed cheese products is about 25% on a global scale.
Any cheese which strays too far from this range runs the risk of being bad-tasting and inferior. Most cheese makers also use pasteurised milk in the manufacturing process to eliminate bacteria and micro-organisms which might be present.
The health benefits of cheese
Research has proved beyond doubt that dairy products are among the very best dietary sources of calcium and other nutrients necessary for good health. Cheese is a popular dairy product, which can be eaten as a snack, or included in many other dishes, such as sauces, pizzas, pastries, soups, and pastas – to name but a few.
Here are some of the health benefits.
- Healthy bones. Proteins, calcium, trace minerals magnesium and zinc, as well as vitamins A, D and B12, allow cheese to contribute to healthy bone development in children and young adults, and prevent osteoporosis in later life.
- Good dental health. Calcium in cheese plays an important role in tooth growth and formation, and helps to provide protection against cavities.
- Healthy blood vessels. Although some cheeses may be high in saturated fat, some studies have recently found that the high antioxidant content of cheese, may offer some protection from the negative effects of sodium which lead to hardening of the arteries. High blood pressure is also effectively controlled by antioxidants.
- Weight loss. Research has revealed that folk who are overweight often lack calcium. Because cheese is rich in calcium, researchers believe that there may be benefits for those on a weight loss diet.
- Omega 3. Omega 3 essential fatty acids have been found in some cheeses, especially those made from the milk of cows who are grass fed. Omega 3 is a major benefit to the cardiovascular system, and very necessary for a healthy brain function.
Cheese offers several health benefits, but it is recommended that if you have a history of heart disease, you opt for low-sodium and low-fat cheeses. And anyone with a MILK allergy, must avoid all dairy products, including all cheese.
A few more cheese facts
- The Celiac Disease Foundation lists dairy as a group that is free of gluten. If you are gluten intolerant, you may eat cheese, but advised to take care with processed cheese products. These products such as cheese spread and processed cheese slices for example, go through additional processing, and flavours as well as preservatives are usually added. Processed products are more likely to contain gluten.
- Lactose (lactic acid) Lactose is present in milk products, and folk who are lactose intolerant have a problem digesting these products. The amount of lactose each person can ingest without getting symptoms differs from one to another. If you are indeed a cheese lover, cheddar, mozzarella, Parmesan and Swiss, contain lower levels of lactose than other cheeses, and will be better tolerated if you are lactose intolerant.
- Vegan or vegetarian. Should you be a full-blown vegan, then cheese is definitely not for you as it is loaded with milk, which is not included in the vegan diet. However although most vegetarians draw the line at animal meat products, some will include dairy in their diets, and enjoy certain cheeses as well.
But here is a word of warning for vegetarians: make sure the cheese you choose does not contain animal rennet. Rennet is an enzyme which is obtained from the stomach of calves that have been used in the veal trade. Cheese makers use rennet to speed up the curdling of the milk for use in the manufacturing process.
The good news is that there are cheeses available which are made from plant rennet. The enzyme is extracted from plants such as spinach and nettles. It has exactly the same effect as the enzyme from animal rennet, but is absolutely safe for vegetarians.
Cheese does offer some interesting health benefits, and how you might gain from these benefits, depends on the type of cheese that you choose – and the amount that you eat.
Cheese is one of the most favourite foods in the world, and researchers maintain that if you are allergy-free, eating a little cheese each day, will be beneficial to your health.