For a long time, we have known that foods high in saturated fat are bad for us and eating them should be avoided as much as possible. Saturated fats are thought to increase blood cholesterol, especially low density lipoprotein (LDL). Increased cholesterol, and especially increased LDL, increase the risk factors for heart disease.
Primary sources of saturated fats for most people are meat and dairy products. Other sources include plant and fish oils and it is fast becoming apparent that not all sources of saturated fats have the same effect on the body.
A recent study showed that high intakes of cheese, surprisingly, had no effect on LDL levels as well as metabolic syndrome – a group of risk factors for diabetes, stroke and cardiovascular disease.
In the study participants ate between 64 and 112 grams of cheese per day, which is between 3 – 5 slices of cheese or roughly 180-400 calories. The participants were asked to maintain their weight throughout the study, which is important, as weight gain and obesity is an independent risk factor for many of the diseases studied.
It is not clear why this level of cheese consumption has no apparent affects on these risk factors. It could be that there are further preventative factors in the cheese. In addition to providing calcium and protein there are a whole host of other minerals, vitamins and nutrients including vitamins A, D and B12, riboflavin, phosphorus, zinc, magnesium and potassium. It also contains probiotics, which help regulate and strengthen gut function and health.
One fact that we are sure of is that cheese is high in fat. Whilst eating large quantities of fat will quickly use up your daily calorie allowance, including small amounts of fatty foods can help with appetite suppression and thus help you regulate your intake.
Some ways to do this include:
Eat cheese with fruit. Many traditional pairings of fruit and cheese allow you to eat relatively small amounts of the high calorie cheese with low calorie foods.
Have a small amount of melted cheese on vegetables such as bell peppers. This will also help increase the amount of vegetables you eat.
Use cheese with a strong taste. Try blue cheeses or goats cheeses to reduce or eliminate dressings on salads.
On the whole, cheese and dairy products have their place within a healthy diet and can be enjoyed in moderation.