If there’s one food I can guarantee to be in the fridge, (no matter how long it’s been there!) is cheese.
From as far back as I can remember, cheese has always been a staple food source in my home.
I love the stuff, particularly the extra mature, cheddar types.
Everyone who can tolerate dairy usually has a favorite cheese and an ideal compliment to it, such as red wine. Mine happens to be apple. (Okay, and red wine!)
You can add cheese to pasta dishes; it can make cauliflower taste great, and plain old bread is transformed into a delicious sandwich when you add a couple of slices of cheese.
The French have turned cheese eating into a national obsession.
Every region in France has its own cheese, and as a country it produces over 600 different varieties.
French women also have the longest life expectancy in all of Europe.
The big concern with eating a lot of cheese has always been due to its high saturated fat content and its association with so-called bad LDL cholesterol.
If you listen to mainstream health authorities and popular media, saturated fat and high cholesterol levels are literally the devils disciples!
This has mainly been the case since the infamous and very flawed Ancel Keys Study, which tracked the fat consumption and heart disease levels of various nations.
Without going into the details of the study, Keys concluded that a low-fat diet should be recommended in order to reduce heart disease.
Unfortunately his findings were slightly manufactured (to say the least).
Here’s an excellent and quick video that reveals Keys’ study for what it really is:
Based on that one flawed study, we now have this crazy obsession with low-fat foods and a recommended limit on any foods that contain fat.
The assumption that a high fat diet leads to heart disease is totally flawed, especially when our bodies actually rely on fat (including saturated fat) for energy.
We also naturally produce cholesterol, and need both LDL and HDL types for optimal health.
Obviously you shouldn’t be eating excessive amounts of saturated fat with every meal, but there’s no need to substitute foods for low-fat versions – which are often more expensive, and usually laden with sugar to make up for the lack of taste.
Health Benefits of Cheese
So, back to our cheese! Yes it can be high in saturated fat, but hopefully you can see that saturated fat isn’t a worry you once thought it was.
Cheese is a wonderful tasting, natural product that contains a number of healthy nutrients, including:
Consuming protein is essential for building muscle, and cheese is a great source of protein casein.
Casein is known as a ‘complete protein’ which contains the full range of animo acids.
It is absorbed more slowly than other proteins, which makes it popular for bodybuilders or anyone looking for sustained muscle growth.
As with most dairy products, cheese contains good amounts of calcium which we need to maintain strong bones and teeth.
Ninety nine percent of the calcium we consume is packed into our bones and teeth.
A small chunk of cheese (approx 30 grams) contains around a third of our recommended nutritional intake of calcium.
Cheese contains vitamin B2 and vitamin B12 (depending on the type of cheese) which the body needs in order to absorb calcium.
A slight deficiency of vitamin B-12 can lead to anemia, fatigue, mania, and depression.
Low In Lactose
Many people (approximately two-thirds of the world’s population) are lactose intolerant, or can tolerate just a little lactose in their diet.
The process of making cheese eliminates virtually all the milk lactose from it.
Even though just a trace of lactose can trigger sensitive individuals, cheese is generally safe to eat.
Helps Reduce Belly Fat
Here’s the latest and greatest discovery: eating cheese can help reduce belly fat!
The Journal Of Nutrition (my number 1, independent, go-to source of nutritional facts) recently published a study that placed a bunch of volunteers on a high dairy diet for 4 months.
The participants gained an extra 1.5kg of muscle mass and LOST twice as much belly fat, as those placed on a low dairy diet!
According to the researchers, the reason for the big difference was attributed to the high levels of leucine found in dairy products.
Leucine is a branch chain amino acid (BCAA) which plays a key role in stimulating new muscle proteins and calcium, which helps the intestines to excrete fat rather than absorb it.
The protein and fat in cheese also helps to suppress your appetite which makes you less likely to snack on unhealthy foods throughout the day.
Although this is recent research, I found a similar study conducted in Australia in 2009 with 40 volunteers over a 12 week period.
The results were pretty much the same.
The study by the Curtin University of Technology found those who increased their daily servings of dairy products from three to five lost the most weight.
They also had lower blood pressure, the least stomach fat and “significantly improved” their chances of improving their health and avoiding heart disease and diabetes.
What kind of cheese should you be eating?
There’s a huge difference between matured, organic cheese, and the type of processed stuff that comes in plastic sleeves or sprayed out of a can! (Why would you?)
Obviously the processed stuff contains very little health benefits and subsequently a ton of shite that will provide us with anything but.
This type of tasteless cheese (found commonly on burgers and in kid’s school meals) is literally engineered in a laboratory and packed with preservatives and emulsifiers.
It actually resembles ‘plastic’ more than it does a food source.
On the other hand, a delicious 3-5 year old matured cheddar, made from organic dairy cows, is high in essential fat and all the other nutritional benefits.
I’m a big fan of sourcing food locally, especially if you’re lucky enough to have a farmers market near you.
I often buy my cheese from our monthly farmers market and bought this 3-year-old matured cheddar cheese the other weekend.
It tastes absolutely delicious!
Obviously it costs more for this type of locally produced cheese, but a couple of chunks or slices every other day shouldn’t break the bank.
Just stay clear of the real cheap, nasty stuff.
Best Cheese for Protein and Calcium
If you’re looking for cheese with the lowest fat content, (although you now know this shouldn’t be your consideration) it is cottage cheese.
Parmesan however is the best source of protein and calcium.
Just a tablespoon provides as much as half of your recommended daily allowance of calcium.
More reason to pile it on your spaghetti bolognese!
Here’s a list of some of the more popular cheeses and their calorie/fat/calcium levels.
Don’t fear the cheese – eat and be happy!
Okay I’m not advocating you eat it at every meal, but a few times a week is absolutely fine.
Neither fat nor cholesterol is your enemy. You need them both for fuel and optimal health.
Whenever possible, and your budget can afford it, buy local, organic, aged cheese.
The taste and nutritional benefits are far superior.
At all cost, stay clear of the highly processed cheese – you know the stuff I mean.
What cheeses would you have on your ideal cheese board?
For me it’s got to be an aged cheddar, stilton, and soft garlic cheese.