The nutritional value of cheese and its effects on our health always raise interesting, and somewhat controversial topics among many people, including nutritionists and dieticians. Cheese has two sides – it contains essential nutrients such as calcium, vitamin B12, and protein. On the other hand, cheese is high in saturated fats and calories, and if taken excessively, can pose a series of health issues, including weight gain. With that being said, the type and quantity of cheese you take can determine how it affects your overall health. Plus, there are over a hundred different types of cheeses, some of which are unhealthy due to processing. Cheese consumption in the U.S. has more than tripled and studies are showing that the benefits may outweigh the negative effects on your health. Statistics show that in 2015, Americans consumed around 37.1 pounds of cheese per person, with Cheddar and mozzarella being the favorite choices.
Cholesterol Level in Cheese
Cheese, like any other dairy product and animal food, contains high cholesterol levels and saturated fats. However, this largely depends on the type of cheese you use. The following is a breakdown of the various types of cheeses available on the market and their cholesterol and saturated fats content per one cup.
- Cheddar Cheese: Saturated fat – 25 g, cholesterol – 131 mg.
- Swiss Cheese: Saturated fat – 24.1 g, cholesterol – 123 mg.
- American Spread Cheese: Saturate fat – 18.7, cholesterol – 77 mg.
- Mozzarella Cheese: Saturated fat – 15.6 g, cholesterol – 88 mg.
- Parmesan Cheese: Saturated fat – 15.4 g, cholesterol – 86 mg.
- Cottage Cream Cheese: Saturated fat – 2 g, cholesterol – 19 mg.
- Non-fat or fat-free cheese: Saturated fat – 0 g, cholesterol – 5 mg.
Research on whether cheese raises cholesterol levels is mixed with one group saying that there are no direct links showing that eating high-fat dairy products was likely to increase your risk for heart disease. Nevertheless, cheese can play a part in raising your cholesterol levels, but choosing the right cheese can reduce this risk. Regardless, when taken in moderation, cheese brings along many health benefits.
Choosing Good Cheese Consider the Fat Content
High-fat content cheeses, as you can see from the table above, are also high in cholesterol and saturated fats. Similarly, they contain high sodium content and too many calories. This is bad for you, especially if you’re dealing with weight problems. Given to kids over a long period can also contribute to obesity. You want to go for the low-fat cheeses, like cottage cream cheeses and non-fat cheeses. Leave Cheddar and Swiss cheeses for special occasions.
Cheeses like Parmesan can be used in small amounts and still enrich your meals with a rich flavor. Flavorful cheeses can be a good addition due to the small serving that you’ll use compared to the less flavorful cheese.
Calcium in Cheese
Almost all types of cheese are a rich source of calcium. As we all know, calcium is important for strong bone formation and healthy teeth. The calcium content differs greatly depending on which type of cheese you eat. Brie Cheese, for example, contains 92 mg of calcium in a 50-gram serving while Swiss cheese contains more than 450 mg in the same size. It’s also possible that low-fat cheeses contain more calcium than the full-fat cheeses. A quarter cup serving of partly skimmed ricotta contains 136 mg of calcium compared to 103 mg of calcium in the same serving of full-fat ricotta.
Raw-Milk Cheeses and Pasteurized Cheeses
Raw-milk cheese is made from unpasteurized milk. Some states allow this type of cheese to be sold as long as they have been matured for at least 60 days. However, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advises against its consumption, especially for pregnant women, children and generally those with a weak immune system. A section of researchers argues that raw-milk cheese contains beneficial pathogens, which make a healthier addition in our meals. Similarly, raw-milk cheese has more flavor than their pasteurized counterparts. This means you can get a rich flavor with just a little amount of the cheese, thereby limiting your cheese intake.
Effects of Eating Too Much Cheese
When taken in moderation, cheese is a rich source of essential nutrients. However, when you exceed your portion over an extended period, here’s what you risk:
- High cholesterol. Due to the saturated fats, cheese can increase LDL (bad) cholesterol, which can clog your arteries and consequently lead to serious health problems like stroke or heart disease.
- Weight gain. Cheese has a high number of calories. A slice of Cheddar cheese, for instance, packs over 100 calories. If you’re trying to lose weight, this can make it really difficult for you.
- Bloating. Too much sodium can lead to bloating. If you constantly feel bloated every time you eat cheese, try to cut back to minimize sodium intake. This is especially true for people who suffer from lactose intolerance.
The Bottom Line
Undoubtedly, cheese is a valuable source of calcium and other nutrients. Choose low-fat and low-sodium cheeses to avoid developing certain health complications. However, this shouldn’t deter you from enjoying the high-fat, high-flavored cheeses like Cheddar or blue cheese, as long as you use only small amounts. And, opt for cheese created from organic milk to get the full benefits.
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