The benefits of cheese
So we’re well and truly into January. How are you getting on with your New Year resolutions? Still sticking to them intently, or have a few started to slide? Did you bother making any at all? We often start out with the best intentions at the beginning of a new year, but can quickly become despondent when our resolve starts to wane.
Truth be told, I’ve not given up anything this January. After all the celebrations and chaos of December I find the first month of the year dreary enough as it is. And I received so much Christmas cheese from the fantastic folk at the Courtyard Dairy. Even with five of us in the house over the festive period we barely made a dent. So cutting out the cheese was never going to be an option!
But it is that time of the year where we try and make little tweaks to our lives. How can we be a slightly better version of ourselves. Whether that’s cutting back on certain food or drink, hitting the gym more often or learning a new skill.
It’s also the time of year where we can feel a little sluggish. Our energy and mood can feel zapped. We struggle to jump out of bed with enthusiasm on those cold and wintery mornings.
So in this post, rather than talk about abstinence, I wanted to look into some of the health benefits of cheese.
Obviously, I need to caveat this by saying that cheese, like all food and drink, should be enjoyed in moderation. You can have too much of a good thing after all.
Most cheeses are high in saturated fat and salt. Too much of this can lead to high blood pressure, high cholesterol and obesity. The NHS recommends that the average adult eats 30g (or a matchbox size piece) of cheese a day.
So here are a few of the positive things that adding a little bit of cheese to your diet each day can provide.
Cheese is a great source of calcium. 30g can provide over a quarter of your daily required intake. As well helping to keep teeth and bones strong and healthy, calcium also helps your blood clot normally.
Cheese also provides a small amount of vitamin D, which keeps teeth, bones and muscles healthy. However, eggs, oily fish and low-sugar cereals are a much better source of this. Because of the limited amount of sunlight we get in the UK during winter, it’s important to top up your vitamin D levels.
Cheese is a good source of protein, which helps to heal woulds, keep bones healthy and maintains muscle mass and strength. Adding other protein-rich foods, such as oily fish, nuts and pulses can also help you feel fuller for longer.
Eating a high protein and fibre diet can also help lower blood sugar, boost your immune system and support good digestive and bowel health.
There have been many research studies that have found cheese to be beneficial for the heart. Researchers in Sweden monitored over 4,000 60-year olds over a 16 year period. They looked at participants who had died during that time from stroke, heart attack or other cardiovascular diseases. They found that those with a higher dairy intake had the lowest risk of cardiovascular disease.
Another study from Copenhagen discovered that cheese increases your high-density cholesterol levels. These can protect against certain diseases – including cardiovascular problems.
139 adults underwent a 12-week study to find out the effect of full-fat cheese on the body. They found that the participants who frequently ate cheese had better high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, thought to be beneficial to heart health.
There’s been a big increase in the popularity of fermented foods, such as kimchi, kombucha and sourdough. They can contribute to good gut health, which can improve your body’s immune system and metabolic rate. Many cheeses are fermented due to the addition of lactic acid bacteria, known as starter cultures, to the milk. It’s these cultures that add specific flavours and textures and prevent bad bacteria from spoiling the cheese.
Buying smaller batch, artisan cheese over mass-produced versions can be good for your gut. Many of the cheeses produced on a larger scale are heavily processed to ensure quality control. They often use pasteurised milk and additives to ensure consistency in the final product. Independent and farmhouse producers use traditional methods and recipes to create their cheese. This might include using raw milk, more diverse starter cultures and good bacteria that are beneficial for your gut. Many of these smaller producers are also more closely linked to the farms where they source their milk from. They have a better understanding of the animals, what they eat and how the milk changes from season to season. The end result is a more interesting and varied range of cheeses, with added health benefits.
Benefit to baby
During pregnancy, the calcium, protein and vitamin D in cheese can support a baby’s growth and bone development. However pregnant women should avoid any cheese made with:
- unpasteurised milk
- mould-ripened cheeses (like Brie and Camembert)
- all soft blue cheeses (like Gorgonzola and Roquefort).
The NHS website provides more information on the foods to avoid during pregnancy.
Cheese contains a protein called casein, which is an important part of the curd formation in cheese making. This protein has been found to release dopamine – known as the happy hormone – into the bloodstream. It can also make you crave cheese as casein triggers the opioid receptors in the brain. So for those of us who say we find cheese addictive, there’s a scientific reason for this!
So there you have it, as long as you enjoy in moderation, cheese can bring many health benefits to us all. So here’s to embracing the new year, and new cheeses, without the remorse. I don’t know about you but I’m feeling better already!