Most people, when I ask them their favorite food, they'll say cheese! And no joke, it is one of the best things known to man. So I may be asking the most important philosophical question of life when I ask, "Is cheese healthy?"
This is kind of a difficult question to answer…because cheese contains saturated fat, which as you might know is one of the most contested hot topics in nutrition history!!
Some people say that it causes heart disease, while other people say it helps prevent heart disease! Personally, I'm in the latter camp. The reason so many people believe that saturated fat is terrible for you is a study that came out a long time ago, just after World War II. When the war was over suddenly, doctors were noticing a huge spike in the rate of heart attacks.
So they did some studies to try and find out the cause. They found that saturated fat raises cholesterol, and that raised cholesterol leads to heart attacks. That means saturated fat leads to heart attacks, right?
Not so fast!!
It's true, saturated fat raises your total cholesterol level. But as you probably know, there's good and bad cholesterol. Saturated fat raises both of them.
But now you're probably thinking, "Michele, is cheese good for you, then? Or does it still cause heart attacks by raising your bad cholesterol?"
Well, thank you very much for asking that question I know you definitely just asked. 😉
The thing about bad cholesterol is, there's not just one type of bad cholesterol, either. The worst type is VLDL, very low density lipoprotein, which is super tiny and way more likely to get stuck in your arteries rather than bounce off of them. Also, VLDL becomes oxidized in the arteries, meaning it becomes combined with oxygen and free radicals. It's only VLDL that's capable of this, but it leads to inflammation and, artery hardening, and yes, heart attacks! But there's also a type of LDL called large LDL, meaning it is big and fluffy like a cloud! This type of LDL bounces off the artery walls and doesn't clog the arteries. That's the type of cholesterol in saturated fat!
Plus, the icing on the cake (yum!): Saturated fat is actually capable of turning VLDL into large LDL! Although, sorry, all the sugar in cake is still going to be unhealthy, even if the fat isn't…
So then, is cheese healthy? It definitely is in that sense…Eating cheese converts dangerous bad cholesterol into good cholesterol, and also contains good cholesterol on its own!
But cheese is not so great for another reason, sodium.
You can't have cheese without salt. Salt is added to cheese when it's being made, or else it would be ridden with bacteria and would be too wet. Salt is, of course, a natural preservative, too. And then, you have to add some salt to make cheese taste great in the first place!
And, just a quick reminder, why is salt so bad? Well, it increases your blood pressure because it's making you retain fluid. And so, we're back to square one…it increases your risk for strokes and heart attack! (Although, I guess the benefit of the saturated fat cancels that out a bit.)
It's very hard to have a final verdict on this. Cheese is, of course, high in calcium, and also high in vitamins A and B12, as well as being a good source of omega-3s. But darn that sodium!
Overall, I would conclude, is cheese healthy?
It really depends – yes for some…no for others. It all is dependent on the individual. Maybe they are lactose intolerant or have allergies to milk-based products. Perhaps, the amount of salt in the cheese isn't so great for your blood pressure.
However, if you are one that loves cheese and does not have any allergies, high blood pressure or other health issues that warn you to stay away from cheese.
I recommend you eat in particular are cottage cheese, parmesan, mozzarella, and swiss, because these are all lower in sodium.