Cheese and healthy eating
Can cheese and healthy eating really appear in the same sentence? September is National Cholesterol Education Month and a perfect time to set the record straight.
Yes, you can enjoy cheese, even if you are following a cholesterol lowering diet. Emerging research has shown that simply reducing dietary cholesterol and saturated fat is not associated with a decreased risk of heart disease. Of course, moderation of these fats is still recommended for serum cholesterol control, but protecting your heart (and brain) has just as much to do with what you add to your diet than what you cut out of your diet.
Eating more fruits, vegetables and whole grains rich in nutrients that keep blood vessels healthy may be even more important.
This is good news because there are a lot of people who love cheese. It’s also good news because cheese and its nutrients offer health benefits. Many cheeses are excellent sources of calcium and good sources of high-quality protein and phosphorus —three nutrients particularly important for helping to build and maintain bones. Cheese also contributes Vitamin A and zinc and some cheeses are fortified with Vitamin D.
When paired with fruits, vegetables and whole grains, it may actually help people eat more of these recommended food groups.
A recent study showed that the visible addition of cheese to various middle school menu offerings may help increase the consumption of fruits, vegetables and whole grains compared with these items without cheese.
Before you ask for extra cheese on your pizza, it’s best to stick to a small portion of about 1 ounce. Cheese is an energy dense food, which means the nutrition in 1 ounce of cheese comes packaged with between 75 and 100 calories. Three dice cubes is a visual reminder of 1 ounce of natural block cheese. About ¼ cup shredded cheese is the equivalent of 1 ounce.
For people who love cheese, having a small portion is a worthwhile trade off. It will be easier to stick to a smaller portion if you choose the sharpest kind available in the variety your recipe calls for. For example, it takes less sharp cheddar cheese shredded on your taco than mild cheddar because of the more pronounced flavor.
Because there are so many different types of cheese, it’s a nutritious choice that fits into most eating plans.
Watching the fat in your diet? Try Parmesan, Romano (grated) or part-skimmed mozzarella. Also try lower fat options of cottage cheese, ricotta, Cheddar, Swiss and Parmesan, Colby or Mexican Blend.
Looking to lower the sodium in your diet? Try Swiss, Monterrey Jack, ricotta or Parmesan. Also try lower sodium varieties of Colby-Jack, Provolone, or Cheddar.
Modifying your diet because of lactose intolerance? Try natural cheeses such as Cheddar, Colby, Monterrey Jack, mozzarella or Swiss, all of which contain minimal amounts of lactose.
Cheese is a convenient, portable and versatile food. So, if a sprinkle of sharp cheddar makes tonight’s broccoli more enjoyable, don’t worry!