Is Cheese Healthy or Is It Bad For You?
Is the creamy, salty, stringy stuff healthy, or should you only enjoy it every once in awhile? We spoke to experts to find out.
A wise man once said cheese is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy. Actually no, that was about beer. But the same idea definitely applies to cheese.
Pretty much everyone can agree that the creamy, salty, stringy stuff is one of the most delicious foods on the planet. And we'd be lying if we said we didn't enjoy crushing a hard run workout, coming home, and enjoying a little cheese with a beer or glass of wine. But is cheese bad for you, is it considered healthy, or is it the kind of thing that you really should only be eating once in a while? Here's what the experts have to say.
How Healthy Is Cheese?
Sure, cheese generally makes everything taste better, but it also happens to serve up some valuable nutrition. At the top of the list? Calcium. The mineral is important for bone health, and it's especially valuable for us runners. "Calcium helps mineralize bones that have added stress from the high-impact activity running imposes," explains sports nutrition expert Kelly Jones, R.D., C.S.S.D. That can help stave off bone loss that leads to stress fractures as well as osteoporosis. "Calcium also helps to regulate heart function and muscle contractions," Jones adds.
Different cheese types have different amounts of calcium, but in general, harder cheeses tend to have more of the mineral than softer ones. You'll get around 500 mg from 1.5 ounces of Parmesan compared to 78 mg from the same amount of brie, for example.
And though most cheeses are pretty high in saturated fat, newer research suggests that might not be such a bad thing. In fact, a recent nine-year study of more than 136,000 adults found that those who consumed two or more servings of full-fat dairy like cheese had lower rates of heart attack, stroke, and death compared to those who had none. One reason why could be that full-fat cheeses are rich in conjugated linoleic acids, compounds that seem to promote artery health, reduce body fat, and fight inflammation.
One other fun surprise: Because cheese is a fermented food, many types--such as mozzarella, cheddar, gruyere, and gouda--pack probiotic bacteria. Those can help promote better digestion and gut health, which could help you avoid those frantic mid-run porta potty searches.
When Is Cheese Not Healthy?
Cheese is similar to other nutritious but calorie-dense foods such as avocado, nuts, and dark chocolate: A moderate portion can be good for you, but it's crazy easy to go overboard. Depending on the type, a 1.5-ounce serving of cheese can have around 100 to 150 calories. "As a visual, that's one slice of cheese, one single cheese stick, or a golf ball-amount of shredded cheese," says nutrition expert Sarah Pflugradt, R.D. But most folks eat way more than that in one sitting, which can add up quickly. And since cheese is high in sodium, a too-generous portion could make it tougher to stay below the recommended 2,300 daily mg threshold. Over time, that could up your risk for high blood pressure.
What's more, even a small amount of cheese before a run could set you up for trouble. "Having an excess of fat before exercise may slow digestion and absorption," Jones says. That can leave you feeling sluggish and lethargic, and even give you a case of runner's trots. Even the best bowl of mac and cheese isn't worth that.
Cheese could cause crappy runs for another reason, too. Dairy is a common allergen, and it's entirely possible to be allergic to dairy foods like cheese without realizing it. "Not all food allergies result in anaphylaxis as people assume. Other symptoms are inflammation and swelling through the digestive tract, congestion, mild to severe skin reactions, or difficulty breathing similar to an asthma attack," Jones says. If you're eating cheese or other dairy foods daily, you might not realize the stuff is the culprit behind the stuffiness or stomach problems that always seem to flare up on and off the run. Lactose intolerance can cause GI issues, too. Hard cheeses such as Parmesan, cheddar, and swiss contain only trace amounts of lactose, Pflugradt points out, but softer ones such as ricotta and brie contain enough to cause cause symptoms to flare up.
How Much Is Too Much?
Good news: "Cheese can absolutely be eaten daily when part of an overall balanced and nourishing diet," Jones says. Just stick with a reasonable portion. "An appropriate serving size is about 1.5 ounces," Pflugradt says. And try to enjoy it in the context of a wholesome meal. Think, blue cheese crumbled over a beet and arugula salad or a slice of cheddar on your turkey sandwich instead of a heaping plate of loaded nachos. (Most of the time, anyway.)
As for whether you should count cheese as a fat or a protein? Most cheeses have a good amount of both, but each type is a little different:
- Mozzarella: 9g protein and 9g fat in 1.5 ounces
- Parmesan: 15g protein and 10g fat in 1.5 ounces
- Feta: 6g protein and 9g fat in 1.5 ounces
- Goat cheese: 9g protein and 12g fat in 1.5 ounces
- Cheddar: 10g protein and 14g fat in 1.5 ounces
Still, runners and other highly-active people tend to need more protein than sedentary folks, so cheese shouldn't be the only source of protein in your meal, Pflugradt says. Want to have a burrito with shredded cheddar? Stuff it with a few ounces of grilled chicken or half a cup of black beans, too. In the mood for a grilled cheese? Add in a couple slices of turkey breast or ham for extra protein.
Lastly, consider this your official permission to go for the full-fat stuff. "I recommend mindfully eating full-fat cheese that someone will enjoy more and feel satisfied from, versus a low-fat or fat-free cheese that they may not feel as satisfied from," Jones says. "This can lead to overeating on the cheese or another food later."
Source: By MARYGRACE TAYLOR -- RUNNERS WORLD