Healthy, Cheese-y New Year
With a kick-off into 2016, many people are vowing to exercise and eat more healthy foods. With plenty of room for kale, salmon, and lemon water, many people do not think of cheese as a diet-friendly food. While eating a pound of cheese is not going to win you any New Year’s Resolution awards, cheese can absolutely be part of a healthy diet.
The first bias against cheese is most people think all fat is bad fat. This is simply not true. All healthy diets must contain a balance of different types of natural fats, and cheese happens to play a crucial part in the food pyramid. One interesting fact about cheese is France, Italy, Denmark, and Greece are four of the highest cheese-consuming countries in the world, and they are also among the list of countries with the lowest rates for obesity and cardiovascular disease.
So why have Americans become obsessed with the idea that cheese is a culprit in the obesity epidemic? Much of it could have to do with many companies constantly advertising diet foods as “low fat,” with cheese seldom in that category. Another issue could be Americans have dramatically increased their consumption of processed foods over the past 100 years. While I hate to sound like a cheese snob, the health benefits associated with cheese, are with real cheese (not the plastic-wrapped processed stuff that often contains über amounts of preservatives and chemicals). It serves its place in the culinary world, but the nutritional facts are obviously much different than natural, real cheese.
Another important thing to consider when adding cheese to a healthy diet is our idea of a “single portion” has also increased over the past 100 years. One serving of cheese is one ounce (that is about the size of your thumb). One serving costs you about 100 to 130 calories, and depending on the type of diet you are on, you can still afford to have 2-3 REAL servings of cheese per day. Not too daunting, right?
While it is always a good idea to talk to your doctor or nutritionist when adding or removing foods from your diet, cheese has many other benefits you may not know about:
1) One thumb-size amount of cheese is jam-packed with nutrients; such as, calcium, vitamin D (which helps our bodies absorb calcium), vitamins A, B2, B12, and K2 as well as folic acid, phosphorus, AND zinc! When vitamins K2 and D3 are consumed with calcium, it creates a power-punch of protection to your brain, heart, and bones. Isn’t it amazing cheese contains all three in the perfect amounts?
2) “Conjugated linoleic acid” is not only a verbal exercise, but it is also a proven anti-cancer and metabolism booster. Guess what food contains it? Cheese, anyone?
3) Cheese is a valuable source of protein. Especially when many people are trying to decrease the amount of meats in their diet, cheese can be an excellent substitute source of protein. It also contains all the necessary amino acids, so your body may absorb and use the protein it contains. This not only keeps you full, but helps you to maintain energy while exercising.
4) The natural fat and salt in cheese can be a good thing. Natural cheese is low in sodium in comparison to the vast array of processed foods that have increased in the American diet. If you are trying to limit the amount of sodium in your diet, try softer cheeses (which tend to contain less salt). Softer cheeses are higher in fat, though. On the subject of fat, our bodies do need it. The keyword is moderation. Cheese contains high-quality, natural fat, which protects vital organs and maintains energy in your body. It also contains Omega-3 fatty acids, which helps protect your brain. Duh! That’s why we like to think of cheese-eaters as geniuses.
5) Not only does your mouth like cheese, so do your teeth and bones! Cheese contains casein (a form of protein). In combination with calcium and phosphorus, it can actually help to rebuild lost minerals in your bones and teeth. Also, eating cheese after something acidic (like wine) can help to neutralize the mouth and prevent tooth decay.
6) Your stomach also likes cheese. It contains natural probiotics that help to neutralize your system and keep your digestive tract… Ahem, dependable?
7) Cheese contains two things that make our brain feel happy. The first is tyrosine (an amino acid). The second has to do with the type of fats found in cheese. They encourage our brain to produce dopamine, which is a feel good chemical produced in the “rewards” center of our brain.
Coming from a Danish-rooted family, I have melted butter and cheese on just about everything since my day of birth. While I admit to being a cheese activist (I honestly cannot remember a cheese-less day in my life), it has never been a cause of weight gain. I am a happy, healthy 30-something-year-old. While I am not encouraging everybody to start melting cheese on everything from pizza to filet mignon, I do think cheese has been given an unfair reputation in the diet community. The keyword is moderation. Your brain will (literally) reward you for it.
Want to learn more? I encourage you to see read more interesting facts about cheese from the International Dairy Foods Association: http://www.idfa.org/news-views/media-kits/cheese/cheese-facts
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