Cheese making has been in practice for over 8,000 years by various cultures around the world. Throughout history, many animals have been valued for their milk, including camels, bison, goats, and yaks. Today, the majority of dairy production comes from cow’s milk, increasing by 50% over the last 40 years. While the percentage of milk consumption in liquid form has decreased, the popularity of cheese has been on the rise, with each person eating an average of 34 pounds a year as of 2012.
However, not all cheeses are created equal. Most cheeses get a bad rap. We hear about how it is unhealthy, negatively contributing to our waistline and increasing the number on the scale. While all cheeses should be eaten in moderation, there are some that are a good addition to your shopping list, including swiss, feta, part-skim mozzarella, parmesan, and cottage cheese. These are a great source of many essential vitamins and minerals, and can help you avoid common health issues.
1. Cheese Can Prevent Osteoporosis
Our parents always instructed us to drink our milk as children, telling us that the calcium and vitamin D would help us to build strong bones. The truth is our bone mass continues to grow throughout childhood and adolescence, reaching its peak density around age 30. From there, the aging process begins to thin our bones over time. It is easy to see that the greater your bone density is at this point, the less effect aging will have on your skeletal integrity.
Unfortunately, inadequate bone mass can contribute to the development of osteoporosis later in life. Osteoporosis is a disease characterized by fragile, porous bones, and it affects over 10 million Americans, 80% of which are women. It is the leading cause of fractures, with 1.5 million estimated each year (particularly in the wrist, hip, or vertebrae). The cause can be attributed to low consumption or poor absorption of calcium, which causes the bones to slowly break down.
Balanced nutrition can help you avoid the development of osteoporosis. You need to ensure you are receiving adequate amounts or protein, calcium, and vitamin D. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends a minimum daily intake of 400 to 500 mg of calcium per day for people over 50 and at risk for fractures. Dairy products, particularly cheese fortified with vitamin D, can be a great way to consume the correct balance of vitamins and minerals.
Bottom Line: Increasing your calcium and protein intake with cheese can keep your bones strong, and help prevent osteoporosis.
2. Cheese Can Have a Positive Effect on Your Dental Health
A study done by dental professionals showed that eating cheese might help to prevent dental cavities. Four groups were tested, consuming milk, sugar-free yogurt, paraffin, and cheese, and the pH balance in various areas of their mouths were tested before and after consumption. A pH level lower than 5.5 can leave your teeth at risk for erosion due to acids created in your mouth. While the groups who drank milk, and ate paraffin and sugar-free yogurt showed no significant change, the group who ate cheese experienced an increase in pH levels.
The findings may be the result of increased saliva production, due to chewing, which protects teeth from erosion. It could also be that certain components of the cheese adhered to the teeth, protecting them from acid. Either way, your teeth are made up of the same substances as your bones. Just as cheese is beneficial for your bone health, it can also have positive effects on your dental health.
Bottom Line: Cheese can keep your teeth strong and prevent expensive dental work that results from decay.
3. Cheese Consumption Can Help You Gain Weight in a Healthy Way
To most people, the idea of gaining weight is not something to be looked at favorably. For some, weight gain is a necessity for various reasons. Actors and athletes may need to bulk up for an upcoming role or game season, or a child may be underweight for their age, according to their pediatrician.
For those looking to gain weight, there is a right and a wrong way to do so. You do not want to put your health at risk by choosing the wrong foods. With its fat and protein content, plus the various vitamins and minerals it contains, cheese is a great choice for gaining weight in a healthy manner.
You do need to be careful about how much cheese you eat, as it can take you too far to the opposite extreme on the weight chart. It is a very energy-dense food, containing a lot of calories per gram. Common cheeses, like goat, gouda, and parmesan, contain over 100 calories per gram. Eating a diet mainly consisting of foods high in energy density can lead to obesity. Try to balance your cheese intake with low energy-dense foods, like fruits and vegetables.
Bottom Line: If your doctor has said that you or your child needs to gain weight, cheese can be a healthy way to achieve this.
4. Cheese is the Best Dietary Source for Calcium
The most abundant mineral in the body, calcium is a necessity for life. It regulates vascular function, nerve transmission, muscle function, and hormone secretion. While only 1% of the calcium in the body is necessary for these functions, the other 99% is stored in the bones.
Your bones go through constant remodeling throughout your life. The balance between breakdown and formation changes over time, with the formation greatly outweighing breakdown in childhood, vice versa in older adults, and a balance between the two in adolescence and early adulthood.
Our bodies cannot create new calcium, and we lose calcium every day through our dead skin cells, nails and hair, sweat, and excrement. It is important to get your recommended daily calcium (roughly 1,000 mg for the average adult), as the calcium we do not receive through our food is then taken from our bones, leaving them prone to breaking down and vulnerable to fractures.
Bottom Line: Cheese is the best way, without supplementation, to receive your recommended daily intake of calcium.
Responsible for the formation, regulation, repair, and protection of the body, protein is a necessity in our diets, giving you a strong immune system, healthy hair, and proper fluid balance in your body. Without proper protein intake, you are at risk for fluid retention and shrinkage of muscular tissue.
Your body does not store protein. Because of this, your daily food consumption should contain adequate amounts of protein. About 2-3 servings of protein-rich foods (such as meat and dairy) per day is adequate for most adults to meet the requirement.
While most cheeses are an excellent source of protein, low moisture-content cheeses are your best choice. If you are looking for the best cheesy source of protein, Parmesan is the one for you. It is the highest protein-content cheese, with 10 grams per ounce. Stay away from “wet” cheeses, like cottage, ricotta, and other cheese spreads if you are looking for protein content. These are very low in protein and high in fat.
Bottom Line: Cheese can help you receive your daily amounts of protein, giving you leaner muscle and healthier skin and hair.