A Dietitian Shares 7 Benefits of Cheese

Posted by Sarah Ryan, MS, RDN, LD

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Tags: Lactose Intolerance, Bone Health, Heart Health

There’s something wonderful about cheese. Alone or with other dishes, cheese often makes an appearance on my plate. As a dietitian, I love cheese’s powerful nutrient package. As a foodie, I love the versatility and variety of cheese. Beyond the great taste, it also does the body good.

Cheese can also fit into these diets:

  1. Cheese pairs well with other healthy foods. I have to be honest – I’m a sucker for a piece of sharp cheddar and a great glass of red wine. OK fine, I’m a sucker for cheese with just about anything. And that’s the point I’m trying to make. Cheese is an easy accompaniment to meals and snacks. Cubes of pepper jack with sweet grapes, freshly grated Parmesan over roasted cauliflower, smoky Gouda with whole-grain crackers – cue mouths watering.
  2. Cheese helps us meet our nutrient needs. The second biggest source of calcium in the American diet, cheese contributes 21 percent of total dietary calcium to our diets among other important nutrients. Plus, cheese can help our families eat more fruits, veggies and whole grains. In fact, some studies* show the addition of cheese to school lunch menus may help increase kids’ consumption of fruits, vegetables or whole grains.
  3. Cheese is made with a few ingredients, but its nutrient package is complex. Cheese is a nutritionally complex food. Though it may have fat, it’s also an excellent source of calcium and a good source of high-quality protein and phosphorus – nutrients needed for building healthy, strong bones.
  4. The calcium in cheese has benefits beyond bone health. Strong bones are a hallmark of calcium, but calcium also helps our hearts, muscles and nerves. Additionally, dairy’s calcium punch is thought to play an important role in reducing the absorption of fat during digestion.
  5. Cheese can be a part of a heart-healthy diet, despite having sodium. Sodium has a bad rap for our hearts because it’s linked to high blood pressure. But you may be relieved to know that cheese contributes only 8 percent of the sodium in American diets. The fact is, cheese can fit into any healthy eating plan. The DASH diet, which stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, includes dairy, whole grains, lean proteins, fruits and veggies. Check out these strategies for lowering your blood pressure. If you’re looking for a lower-sodium cheese, try Swiss or fresh mozzarella. Cheese can also fit into these diets: 
    • Dietary Guidelines for Americans
    • Diabetic
    • Mediterranean
    • Plant-Based
    • Vegetarian
    • Gluten-Free
    • Ketogenic
    • Low-Lactose
  6. The fat in cheese is #DairyAmazing. Though cheese has saturated fat – which has been known to raise LDL cholesterol, or the “bad cholesterol” – it may not affect your cholesterol levels at all. New research suggests full-fat dairy products (including milk, cheese and yogurt) may not be associated with heart disease risk. In fact, some studies suggest full-fat dairy may reduce risk.
  7. Cheese is an excellent choice for people with lactose intolerance. Lactose intolerance shouldn’t mean dairy avoidance. There are many strategies for including the dairy foods you love, including the cheeses you crave. Natural cheeses like cheddar, colby jack, Swiss and Parmesan, in particular, are good choices because they contain minimal lactose.

 How do you incorporate cheese into your family’s diet? Tell us in the comments.

 

* Donnelly JE, Sullivan DK, Smith BK, Gibson CA, Mayo M, Lee R, Lynch A, Sallee T, Cook-Weins G, Washburn RA. The effects of visible cheese on the selection and consumption of food groups to encourage in middle school students. J Child Nutr Manag. Vol. 3, Issue 1, Spring 2010.

Sarah Ryan, MS, RDN, LD

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