Why You Should Include It in Your Diet
In Part 1 of our cheese series, we examined and dismissed lingering misconceptions about real cheeses—those made from the milk of grass-fed animals and processed in traditional fashion. Now let’s consider some compelling reasons why they are among the best natural foods to include in your diet.
The essayist and editor Clifton Fadiman famously called cheese “milk’s leap to immortality.” It is, in fact, a concentrated, “pre-digested” form of milk, far easier to transport and store, and to absorb into our bloodstreams—not to mention more delicious—than its liquid counterpart. Cheese contains relatively large amounts of protein, calcium and phosphorus as well as vitamins A, B2 and B12 in addition to trace elements. Perhaps most important, its abundant natural saturated fats contribute to increasing our HDL, aka good cholesterol.
In addition, real cheeses contain the beneficial fatty acid CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), which has anti-cancer, anti-oxidant and anti-cholesterol properties. Professor David Barbano, of theDepartment of Food Sciences at Cornell University and his lab are among the lead researchers in this area.
“To the extent you can afford it, you want everything from animals that are fed real grass,” says New York nutritionist Oz Garcia, who counts Gwyneth Paltrow among his many high-profile clients. “You will be leaner and happier if you have healthy saturated fats in your diet. So eating artisanal cheeses, from my point of view, is important.”
Real farmstead cheese is not only healthy food, it’s good karma: Milking a properly cared-for cow and making cheese from her milk is far more efficient than fattening her up for slaughter in a year or two. A quarter-pound chunk of a hard, aged cheese—say Cheddar or Parmesan—delivers equivalent nutritional value to the same amount of burger or steak. A 900-pound cow, butchered, yields just over 400 pounds of meat (all cuts). A milker, on the other hand, is an amazingly efficient nutrient factory: For every pound of grass or feed eaten, she yields a pound of milk. In a year, she gives about 12,000 pounds of milk, enough to make 1,200 pounds of cheese. And she has a 10- to 12-year productive life span. You do the math.
Listen to Nina Planck, author of Real Food and a strong proponent for traditional diets: “Making real cheese from the milk of grass-fed animals adds probiotics, it concentrates calcium and protein, it increases the flavor a hundred-fold and it adds complexity. What could be greater in nutrition and pleasure than diversity of nutrients and complexity of flavor that makes us healthy and keeps us happy?”
And, by the way, there’s a fascinating scientific basis for why cheese not only makes us happy, but is deliciously addictive. The primary protein in cheese, casein, is broken down in our digestive tracts into a substance called casomorphin, which is an opioid (like morphine and heroin). Cheese is known for its high concentration of the amino acid tyrosine, the name of which comes from the Greek root tyros (cheese). The brain’s olfactory bulb breaks down this tyrosine to form several neurotransmitters: epinephrine (a.k.a. adrenaline), which produces the “fight or flight” response; norepinephrine, which helps fight depression and boost attention skills; and dopamine, which activates pleasurable feelings.
“It’s a lot like what we’ve discovered about chocolate,” says Garcia. “These foods really work to produce those neurotransmitters.” More incontrovertible evidence that not only does real cheese taste good, it’s good for you. So put down your Ritalin, set aside that Wellbutrin, and pick up a piece of cheese.
Read Part 1, Do you have Cheesephobia?