Time to Get Over It.

A large percentage of health-conscious Americans, it seems, are still suffering from an unfortunate case of cheesephobia. They tend to avoid it like the plague based on largely irrational and unfounded fears of fat, cholesterol and bacteria. In reality, all-natural farmhouse-style cheese made from the milk of grass-fed animals—a.k.a. “real cheese”is one of most delicious and nutritious foods on the planet.

Let’s dissect a few of the off-putting myths about cheese:

1.) It’s full of fat and cholesterol, so stay away.  While it’s true that cheese has saturated fats from animal sources, which government guidelines recommend we limit to no more than 10% of our caloric intake, there’s much evidence that if those substances come from naturally raised livestock, they will increase HDL, the good cholesterol, actually decreasing the risk of heart disease.  

2.) It’s hard to digest.  Not true: During cheesemaking and aging processes, bacteria and enzymes break down milk fats and proteins, rendering them much easier to digest and absorb. 

3.)  You can’t eat it if you’re lactose intolerant.  Nearly all the lactose in milk is converted to lactic acid during the initial stages of cheesemaking; the aging process converts the rest, so that well-aged cheeses contain few, if any, traces of it and should be fine unless you have a rare, severe allergy.  

4.)  Cheese will make you fat.  First, if you eat real cheeses, you’re unlikely to eat large quantities.  They’re very concentrated and not inexpensive. (That said, they deliver a lot of bang for your buck.)  Follow the USDA dietary guidelines and nutritional goals.  Focus on total calorie intakenot to exceed what you burnand recommended limits for the different nutrient groups, i.e. saturated fat, protein, cholesterol, sodium, etc. 

“It is much easier to gain weight by eating foods that raise your blood sugar—for example, simple carbs found in processed foods and foods containing sugar,” says New York nutritionist Charles Passler, D.C. whose clients have included Naomi Watts, Liev Schreiber and Amber Valletta.  “Cheese has minimal to zero carbs or sugar, and is a good source of fat and protein. The type of fats and the ratio of the fats is one of the characteristics of real cheese that makes it so beneficial. It may provide a buffer for weight gain in relation to any calories from carbs consumed.  It also has the potential of providing fuel to support and promote a healthy metabolism.” 

5.) Raw milk is risky.  If it’s gathered, handled and made into cheese properly, it is perfectly safe.  Pasteurization of clean milk is unnecessary, and it compromises the nutritional value and flavor complexity of a cheese. 

Eating a 4-ounce chunk of farmhouse Cheddar or its equivalent per day, within the context of a balanced diet, constitutes reasonable cheese consumption. To keep track of your cheese calories—and gauge its nutritional values—check the USDA’s National Nutrient Database, which lists just about every type of cheese.

“People are deathly afraid of fats, especially saturated fats and cholesterol,” says Nina Planck, author of Real Food: What to Eat and Why, in which she advocates a diet of traditional foods, including farm-raised eggs, butter, milk and cheese. “It’s man-made saturated fats, i.e. trans fats, that raise cholesterol in unhealthy ways.  All the evidence is for natural saturated fats and against refined fats and trans fats.”

Go ahead.  Eat some real cheese and don’t be scared.

Read Part 2, Cheese is Good, Cheese is Great

Sources:

  1. Charles Passler
  2. USDA National Nutrient Database
  3. Nina Planck