Cheese: Are There Health Benefits?

Cheese is everywhere.

You can enjoy it melted on pizza, sliced up for a sandwich, or sprinkled over a salad. But cheese also has a bit of a bad rap as a high-fat food.

And while it may be true that cheese contains a high amount of fat, it can provide some surprising health benefits.

Nutrition Information

Cheese is what’s known as a whole food: a food as close to its natural form as possible, with minimal to no processing.

The nutrition you get from cheese can vary a lot depending on what kind of cheese you eat — and how much. Steer clear of highly processed kinds, as they can contain additives and high levels of sodium.

Beneficial nutrients present in cheese include:

  • Protein
  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin B-12
  • Vitamin K
  • Zinc
  • Calcium
  • Vitamin D

One ounce (28 grams) of American cheese contains:

  • 104 calories
  • 5 grams of protein
  • 9 grams of fat (5 grams saturated)
  • 1 gram of carbohydrates
  • 0 grams of fiber
  • 0.6 grams of sugar
  • 293 milligrams of calcium
  • 468 milligrams of sodium

An ounce of Brie cheese, on the other hand, contains:

  • 100 calories
  • 1 gram of carbohydrates
  • 9 grams of fat
  • 5 grams of protein
  • 150 milligrams of calcium
  • 170 milligrams of sodium

And in an ounce of Feta cheese:

  • 60 calories
  • 1 gram of carbohydrates
  • 4 grams of fat
  • 5 grams of protein
  • 60 milligrams of calcium
  • 360 milligrams of sodium

The key to finding healthier cheeses is reading the label.

Harder cheeses tend to be higher in sodium, and nutrient content can vary from brand to brand. Avoid products that are cheese-flavored and opt for minimally processed varieties instead. When in doubt, always check the packaging.

Potential Health Benefits of Cheese

Cheese made from the milk of animals that are raised 100% grass-fed contains omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin K-2, a nutrient our bodies use to coagulate blood. Research has even shown that dairy products like cheese can help keep our teeth free of cavities.

Other health benefits of cheese include:

Bone and muscle health. The calcium and protein in cheese makes it great for building strong bones and muscle. Whey protein, the same type of protein used in many powdered muscle-building supplements, is plentiful in cheese.

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Since cheese is made from milk, it’s also packed with calcium. Calcium can help developing bones grow stronger, and also prevent osteoporosis as we age. Vitamins A, D, K, and Zinc present in cheese are also thought to contribute to bone health.

Less inflammation. Dairy fats in cheese contain conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which may help ease inflammation — and may even help prevent heart disease and obesity. Studies show certain full-fat dairy products can be healthy when eaten in moderation.

Lower blood pressure . The high levels of calcium present in dairy products like cheese can help reduce blood pressure. Lower-fat, low-sodium cheeses, eaten in moderation as part of a healthy diet, can help lower blood pressure. Try cottage cheese, ricotta cheese, parmesan, feta, or goat cheese.

Blood vessel protection. Research shows cheese could be a good source of glutathione, an antioxidant that helps maintain brain health.

This antioxidant property may also help blood vessels work better. A 2016 study showed that the blood vessels of participants that ate cheese were healthier than those of people who ate pretzels or soy cheese.

Gut health. Fermented foods like cheese and yogurt contain probiotic bacteria. Some small studies have shown healthy gut bacteria can have keep cholesterol levels healthy.

Potential Risks of Cheese

Some people are allergic to a protein in cheese called casein. An allergic reaction to this substance can cause inflammation throughout the body, rashes, acne, headaches, and sinus congestion.

If you’re intolerant to lactose, the sugar that naturally occurs in cheese, this can also trigger a reaction. Symptoms of lactose intolerance can include bloating, flatulence, and diarrhea.

If you’ve never been tested for these sensitivities, talk with your doctor or a dietician about them.

Finally, while the saturated fats in cheese can be beneficial in small amounts, diets high in saturated fats and sodium have been linked to heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure. Since cheese has higher amounts of saturated fat and sodium, it’s best to eat it in moderation.

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Healthy Alternatives

There are more and more alternatives to cheese popping up. If you're lactose intolerant, cheese made from almonds or cashews make a nice alternative, though you may need to be wary of things like added salt if you eat those.

Fat-free cheese is a possible alternative if you're worried about how much fat you're taking in. In fact, some research suggests that low-fat cheeses can aid in weight loss because your body burns more fat when it gets enough calcium.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on December 13, 2020

Sources

SOURCES:

Karger: “Association between Dairy Intake and Caries among Children and Adolescents. Results from the Danish EYHS Follow-Up Study”

Clinical Cases in Bone and Mineral Metabolism: “Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and bone health”

Foods: “Dairy Fats and Cardiovascular Disease: Do We Really Need to be Concerned?”

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The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: “Dairy intake is associated with brain glutathione concentration in older adults”

British Journal of Nutrition: “Dairy cheese consumption ameliorates single-meal sodium-induced cutaneous microvascular dysfunction by reducing ascorbate-sensitive oxidants in healthy older adults”

Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry: “Metabolomics Investigation To Shed Light on Cheese as a Possible Piece in the French Paradox Puzzle”

Harvard Health: "The Dairy Dilemma."

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