On the down side, cheese is high in saturated fat and salt.
On the up side, cheese is high in calcium, zinc, vitamin A, and protein.
Casein is a cheese protein that may trigger allergic reactions in those who are gluten intolerant.
There’s no denying it: cheese is delicious—which makes it so easy to overindulge. Cheese is a good source of calcium, potassium, vitamin D and protein; but it’s also loaded with calories and saturated fat. So, what is a cheese-loving person supposed to do? Ruby Schuler, a registered dietitian at Queen of the Valley Medical Center, helps explain it all.
“People love to snack on cheese but it’s important to pair it with other foods,” says Ruby Schuler, “foods like fruits, vegetables or whole grain crackers are a good choice because they will help fill you up and satisfy your hunger more quickly than cheese alone. I always recommend pairing at least two food groups together because we tend to overeat anything if it’s just one thing. It’s important to balance your meals and make sure you are satiated with some of that fat from the cheese but also getting the fiber from fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.”
While this tasty treat may seem like a good idea, if we eat too much of it too often it could increase our risk of developing certain health conditions, here’s why:
- Cheese is loaded with saturated fat.
If eaten in excess, foods high in saturated fat can lead to high cholesterol, heart disease, and diabetes.
- Cheese is very salty.
Salty foods, though often consumed in excess, should be enjoyed in moderation. Too much sodium can lead to high blood pressure, diabetes, kidney disease, heart attack and stroke.
- Cheese may increase inflammation.
Cheese is a processed food that is concentrated from whole milk. Because many people have difficulty digesting milk and dairy products, it may trigger inflammatory responses in the body. Pro tip: Avoid processed cheese, the more hands that touch it the more likely it is to have trans fat, which is linked to inflammation. Try Cheddar, Swiss and Parmesan, which have more anti-inflammatory properties.
The health benefits of cheese
“Though there are things to consider before indulging in a cheese-heavy meal or snack, don’t throw away your cheese plate just yet. Cheese still has a place at the table, despite its high calorie, saturated fat and salt content. To enjoy it’s health benefits, you’ve got to find the right match for you and enjoy it in moderation.”
Whether you’re looking for a low-sodium, low fat, high-calcium or high-protein cheese to satiate your diet, Schuler helps you find the best cheese with these helpful tips:
- Looking to lower the sodium in your diet?
Try Swiss, Monterey Jack, Ricotta, Port de Salut or Parmesan. You can also try lower sodium varieties of Colby-Jack, Provolone, Muenster, Mozzarella or Cheddar.
- Watching the fat in your diet?
Try Parmesan, grated Romano or part-skim Mozzarella. Or you can try lower fat options of Cottage, Ricotta, Cheddar, Swiss, Parmesan, Colby, Muenster, Provolone, Mexican blend or American.
- Need more calcium in your diet?
Try Swiss, Cheddar, Ricotta, Mozzarella, Monterey Jack, Gouda, Queso Blanco, Mexican blend or Colby.
- Looking for more protein options for your diet?
Try Swiss, Cottage, Ricotta, Mozzarella, Monterey Jack, Cheddar, Gouda, Colby, Port de Salut, or Provolone.
“For anyone who is sensitive to gluten, cheese can be inflammatory and irritate the lining of the stomach. Gluten is a mixture of proteins, including casein proteins, which are found all cheese varieties,“ says Ms. Schuler, “In fact, casein is the main protein in milk that is used to make cheese.”
Healthy cheese alternatives
Whether you are gluten or lactose intolerant or are just looking for healthy cheese alternatives for your diet, there are many options available, including:
- Nut cheeses
Nut cheese can be made from cashews and macadamia nuts as well as other nuts and seeds. Nut cheese is a delicious, dairy-free, vegan alternative. Nut cheese can be a healthy alternative because they contain healthy fats, but they are still high in calories when consumed in quantities larger than their serving sizes. Whether a fat is healthy or unhealthy, it contains 9 calories per gram, compared to 4 calories per gram of protein or carbohydrates. This is an important fact for people who are watching their weight.
- Plant-based cheeses
Depending on the recipe that is used, plant-based, vegan cheese can be made from soy protein, solidified vegetable oil, thickening agar flakes, tapioca flour, natural enzymes, vegetable glycerin, assorted bacterial cultures, arrowroot and pea protein.
- Nutritional yeast
Nutritional yeast is a plant-based organism that is grown on molasses then harvested and dried. It is delicious when rehydrated using an already moist food like eggs, soups, vegetables or olive oil.
Tips to help you avoid over-indulging in cheese
Here are a few effective strategies to help you avoid binging on cheese:
- Know your limits
Choose lower fat options, but be sure to check the salt content as well. Low-fat cheese is often higher in salt. Healthier cheese options in your fridge it will help you avoid extra calories, fat, and salt.
- Pair cheese with other foods
Cheese should be used as a flavor enhancer and never as the star of the dish. Try pairing cheese with fresh fruit, vegetables or whole grains to satisfy your snack craving or appetite.
- Eat smaller portions
If you can trust yourself to have richer, stronger, fattier, full-fat cheeses in your fridge, this may help limit your portion sizes. A rough guideline is about one ounce of full-fat cheese per day, though health professionals recommended enjoying smaller portions of any foods that contain high amounts of trans fat and sale throughout the day rather than eating it all at once. Another portion control tip is to purchase pre-packaged cheese in snack-size portions such as string cheese.
Which cheese is the guiltiest pleasure?
There are so many decadent cheese options, but if we had to choose just one it would be Mascarpone. This cheese is certainly not for the faint of heart, and not a good choice for heart health. It is made up of about 44 percent of saturated fat, making it the cheese of choice for delicious Italian desserts like Tiramisu. If you love buttery double or triple cream cheeses, but not the health risks, try substituting half the mascarpone in recipes with a low-fat Greek yogurt. You’ll still get the delicious taste, but half the fat.
Want to learn more about lowering the amount of saturated fat in your diet and living a healthier lifestyle? The Synergy Wellness Center at Queen of the Valley Medical Center integrates exercise and fitness with disease prevention, management, and rehabilitation. We offer a comprehensive array of weight management, diabetes wellness, nutrition/stress counseling, physical therapy, arthritis management and personal fitness programs.
For more information about the Synergy Wellness Center programs and services call 707-251-1395.
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.