Cheese as health food sounds too good to be true. After all, cheese has a lot of what we’ve been taught is bad for us, namely fat and salt. But there are also a lot of potential health benefits that suggest that including some cheese in your diet is a good nutrition.
Certainly, a diet with high amounts of cheese is likely to lead to weight gain, as cheese is very calorie dense, with typically 100-120 calories per ounce (by comparison, an ounce of rib-eye steak has 75 calories, an ounce of skinless chicken breast has 35, and an ounce of carrots has 11). The high amount of saturated fat in most cheeses may also negatively affect your heart and arteries. But these can be mitigated by limiting quantities and choosing the right kinds of cheese.
So what are the benefits we’re talking about? First, let’s disclose that we are not doctors or scientists, so we don’t necessarily understand all of the science behind this, but these have all been collected from reputable sources (studies are linked):
- Eating cheese increases saliva production, which helps wash away the acids and enzymes that cause tooth decay. And the calcium and other minerals in cheese help strengthen teeth (from the University of Rochester).
- Full-fat cheeses contain a substance called conjugated linoleic acid, which has been shown to help with obesity and lowering blood pressure. There is also evidence that it aids in cancer prevention and may help fight against metabolic disorders such as diabetes. (see Abstract)
- A recent study found that eating cheese increased production of short-chain fatty acids thought to be anti-inflammatory, and reduced production of a substance called TMAO, which can promote plaque development in your arteries. It appears that this is accomplished by promoting gut bacteria that produce the former rather than the latter.
- Cheese is mostly fat and protein, so it doesn’t cause rapid increases in blood sugar the way many carbohydrates will. And foods rich in protein and fat are widely believed to help keep hunger at bay.
- Blue cheeses, like Stilton and Roquefort, contain probiotics—beneficial bacteria that can aid in digestion and boost your immune system. (Read more here)
- One study showed that eating cheese regularly does not increase levels of LDL (“bad” cholesterol), despite cheese’s high fat content.
So what kind of cheese should you eat? The best cheeses are full-fat cheeses made naturally, with no additives or preservatives. One study found that cheese made from sheep’s milk had higher concentrations of health-beneficial conjugated linoleic acid, and sheep’s milk cheese has a distinct nutty flavor that makes it especially good. If you’re looking for sheep’s milk cheese, common types are Manchego (Spain) and Pecorino Romano or Toscano (Italy).
Cheese is also delicious and packed with flavor, so you don’t need to use a lot of it to flavor a dish. For example, a tablespoon of grated Parmigiano Reggiano (considered by many to be the king of cheeses) has only 22 calories and 1½ grams of fat. Yet, it adds an incomparable flavor to many dishes.
Want to try? Check out our line of delicious cheeses.