By Alexandra Hansen
Almost everyone loves a good vegemite and cheddar sandwich or some brie with a glass of wine. But the evidence seems to shift about whether or not cheese should be part of a healthy diet.
Most types of cheese contain salt and saturated fat, but it’s also high in protein and calcium, so what’s the verdict?
We asked five experts if cheese is bad for our health.
Five out of five experts said no:
Unless you’re part of the 4.5% of Australians with a cow’s milk protein or dairy product allergy, eating cheese can be consistent with good health, and a tasty way to boost your protein, calcium and vitamin B12 intake.
The Australian Guide To Healthy Eating recommends two to three serves of dairy foods per day (or four serves for women over 50 years), with a serve equivalent to about 40 grams (about the size of a matchbox) of full fat or reduced fat cheese. The reduced fat option helps reduce your total kilojoule intake.
When it comes to specific heart health risks, the question of whether to eat full fat or reduced fat has not been adequately addressed. A review published in 2018 identified four studies that looked at cheese intake and found a lower risk of heart disease as cheese intake increased. Having moderate amounts of cheese regularly is consistent with good health.
Cheese can be a healthy part of the diet, but not all cheeses are created equal and we don’t need to eat a whole wheel of Brie in one sitting. According to the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating, a serve is about 40g of hard cheese like cheddar and about half a cup of ricotta. Next time you’re at the supermarket look at the back of three different cheeses and see what you are actually eating, what are the ingredients? How much sodium, saturated fat and calcium does it contain? Then pick the best out of the three choices – more calcium, less sodium, less saturated fat and enjoy in moderation.
Cheese is one of the most ancient foods for humans and has been part of our diet for several thousands of years. Cheese is rich in proteins and fat which provide important building blocks (amino acids and fatty acids) for our body. It also contains many other important ingredients including vitamins and minerals, all of which are needed to maintain good health.
So far, there are no studies showing cheese consumption is associated with heart disease. Although industrial trans-fat increases the risk of heart disease, the natural trans-fat contained in cheese does not. Although cheese contains saturated fat, we’re not sure this is what clogs arteries. Even though cheese itself is not bad for us, we should avoid it if travelling to tuberculosis-endemic countries where pasteurization is not enforced (such as Nigeria).