Dispelling Some of the Health Myths about Cheese

By Simone Stromer, MD, CHC [AADP]

With Shavuot just around the corner, many of us are preparing our ovens for cooking delicious cheese-based meals. This presents a great opportunity to clarify some of the myths surrounding cheese. Many of my clients generally avoid cheese because of its high fat content, propensity to cause high blood cholesterol, and rumors that it is fattening. One of my greatest pleasures is providing clients with permission to start eating cheese again—even whole cheese— as part of their overall nutrition plan. Here’s why:

Cheese Will Not Cause Weight Gain
Some research over the past few years has suggested that including skim or fat-free milk or dairy products into your diet can actually help you lose weight. Without going into a detailed account of the potential flaws of such research, these claims are not founded. The principle of moderation that applies to any food also applies to cheese. Make sure to read the labels of cheese packages to determine the calorie content per serving. Amongst the types of cheese with the lowest calories per ounce are cottage cheese, ricotta cheese, and farmer cheese. If you prefer cheeses that have more texture, but still with only 70-80 calories per ounce try feta or mozzarella.

Whole Milk Cheese May be Better than Low-Fat Cheese
Lower-fat versions of cheese are usually recommended for people watching their cholesterol intake because of reduced quantities of saturated fat. However, reduced dairy products may not contain the same quantities of fat soluble vitamins (vitamins A, D, E, and K) as whole milk ones because of the de-fatting process. As far as milk is concerned, the difference between 1% milk and whole milk is a matter of 50 calories and about 6 grams of fat per (1 cup) serving. In contrast, indulging in a small Hershey’s chocolate bar will set you back 250 calories and 17 grams of fat. Clearly choosing reduced fat dairy products makes the most sense from the point of view of stringent calorie and saturated fat monitoring; however, whole milk products are without a doubt more nutritious.

Not All Cheese is Poorly Digested
Some people do not digest lactose in dairy products such as cheese well so they avoid it altogether. However, there are different degrees of intolerance and it is best to determine your level before eliminating cheese from your diet permanently. Also, many individuals with a degree of lactose intolerance can still eat aged cheese (for example, asiago, cheddar, and parmesan), which contain primarily lactic acid (as opposed to lactose).

Cheese is a Natural Product
There are many delicious cheeses to enjoy that are relatively unprocessed. Cheeses such as cream cheese and American cheese are highly processed, so we should keep consumption of these at a minimum. Go ahead and enjoy your cheese cake on Shavuot; just remember everything in moderation.

Simone Stromer, MD, CHC [AADP]
Free one hour initial health and nutrition consultation for gourmetkoshercooking.com readers

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