The good and the bad about cheese

Pizza, pasta, enchiladas – cheese makes everything more delicious. From cheddar to Gouda to Gorgonzola, all kinds of cheese are made from four simple ingredients – milk, salt, a starter culture and rennet. The way the ingredients are combined, the type of ingredients used, the other ingredients added and the length of time the cheese ages all determine the taste of the cheese.

You may love cheese, but is it a food that’s okay to indulge in or should you watch how much you eat?

Cheese, like other types of dairy foods, is a great source of protein, calcium, vitamins and minerals. Your body needs quality protein and essential amino acids like that found in cheese to build muscle, bone, cartilage, blood and skin. Protein provides your body with energy and helps fill you up, making lean sources of protein helpful in your quest to lose weight.

The calcium found in cheese is beneficial for bone health. The vitamin B12 in cheese helps your body absorb and use the calcium. People of all ages – but especially children and teenagers, need to eat enough calcium to support bone growth and strength. Without adequate amounts of calcium in your diet, you’re at risk for osteoporosis and brittle bones later in life. Just two ounces of cheese provide almost half of your daily calcium requirements.

Besides bone health, calcium is also important for strong teeth and a strong jawbone to support those teeth. Eating sources of calcium like cheese along with good dental hygiene will help ensure your pearly whites stay healthy.

Eating too much cheese isn’t a smart idea for a few reasons.

Reason 1 – cheese is high in calories, saturated fat and cholesterol, making it one of those foods you need to watch if you’re trying to lose weight.

Reason 2 – cheese is difficult for many people to digest, especially if it’s made from cow’s milk and pasteurized. During pasteurization, the enzymes that help your body digest dairy products are lost. People with an intolerance to lactose, the sugar found in dairy products, will have trouble digesting cheese and may experience gas, bloating or diarrhea from eating too much.

Reason 3 – many cheeses are high in sodium. This salty taste makes cheese yummy, but too much sodium puts one at risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, kidney stones and edema (swelling of body parts).

Cheese is a nutritious food offering several important health benefits, but because of its high fat and sodium content, it should be eaten in moderation. Adults need two to three servings of dairy a day and cheese is one way to get those servings, just choose reduced-fat varieties to save on calories. Reduced-fat cheese contains the same amount of protein and calcium but up to 70 fewer calories and almost half the amount of fat and cholesterol.

When cooking with cheese, use less than the recipe calls for or substitute full-fat cheese for a reduced-fat option. You don’t need much cheese with strong flavor (sharp cheddar, Parmesan, Bleu, or Feta) in order to still enjoy its taste. When planning a meal that contains cheese, pair it with healthy, low-fat options like vegetables, whole grain pasta or beans.

Jack Wheeler is a personal trainer and owner of 360 Fitness in Red Deer.

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