Healthy diet plans don’t have to exclude perennial favorites like cheese. Many of us are cheese lovers, but mistakenly believe that this satisfying indulgence cannot be a part of our healthy diet plans.
Cheese plates are still go-to appetizers, particularly for celebrations. If you’re planning a holiday party, an eye-catching cheese plate of Gorgonzola Dolce, Aged Manchego, Goat Gouda, and soft-ripened Brie on a colorful plate adorned with organic fig spread, Marcona almonds, Prosciutto, and Raincoast Crisps, might be just what the doctor ordered.
Healthy Diet Plans Can Accommodate Cheese
If fact, healthy diet plans can accommodate cheese. We just need to moderate our consumption it because it is quite caloric.
If you’re a cheese lover, like me, you’re not alone. According to the USDA, cheese consumption in the US nearly tripled from 1970 to 2003. The average American now eats 31 pounds per year and is partial to Mozzarella, due to our fondness for pizza.
Why the increase? USDA attributes it to wider variety, eating out, and the increased popularity of cheese-centric ethnic cuisines. My theory is that the artisan cheese craze is fueling the trend. Cheese specialty shops are popping up everywhere and high-end restaurants offer artisanal cheese board appetizers.
Health Diet Plans with Cheese Have Health Benefits
Cheese is a good addition to a healthy diet plan because dairy products provide a nutrient-rich package of calcium, protein, phosphorus, zinc, vitamin A and vitamin B12, which is difficult to find in other foods.
Particularly as we age, we need to eat more calcium-rich foods due to poorer absorption rates. The adult RDA of 1,000 mg per day increases to 1,200 mg for women over 50 and men over 70 years old. Adequate calcium intake is critical for healthy teeth and strong bones. It also helps avoid osteoporosis, a disease which afflicts 26% of US women over 50 and 50% of those over age of 85. Osteoporosis can lead to an increased risk of life-changing bone fractures. Eat just one-ounce of cheese, about the size of 4 dice, and you’ve satisfied 20% of your daily calcium needs.
Cheese is also high in protein, which helps rebuild the muscle loss that comes with normal aging and keeps us feeling satiated, a key factor in controlling weight.
Certain semi-soft fermented cheeses, including Gouda and cheddar, contain probiotics which help with digestion and promote the proliferation of healthy gut bacteria. Probiotic cheeses have been found to help ward off C. difficile, an infection prevalent in hospitals today, particularly among patients who are taking antibiotics.
Vitamin B12 deficiencies are common in older adults due to changes in gastrointestinal absorption rates. Recent studies show that B12 is protective against Alzheimer’s disease.
Even if you’re lactose intolerant, many cheeses, particularly aged cheeses such as Cheddar and Swiss, contain little or no lactose and are often well tolerated.
Healthy Diet Plan: The Low-Fat, High-Fat Quandary
While the latest USDA Dietary Guidelines recommend eating fat-free or low-fat dairy products and limiting total intake of calories from all saturated fats, including butter and whole milk, to 10% of dairy calories, there is a growing body of research demonstrating that eating full-fat dairy may be better for overall health. A 2016 study analyzed data from the Brazilian Longitudinal Study of Adult Health and reached the unexpected conclusion that consuming full-fat dairy products decreased the risk of metabolic syndrome, a group of risk factors associated with heart disease, in middle-aged and older adults. According to the study’s authors: “Dietary recommendations to avoid full-fat dairy intake are not supported by our findings.” Other studies have found that eating full-fat dairy lessens the incidence of obesity, cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. With respect to cholesterol, research shows that while consuming butter may increase levels of LDL or “bad” cholesterol, but eating full-fat cheese actually lowers bad cholesterol.
Many Nutritionists, including me, now recommend eating full-fat dairy rather than the reduced fat concoctions, which not only taste like cardboard and leave you feeling unsatisfied, but typically include whey solids, preservatives, emulsifiers, coloring, and added salt to make them somewhat palatable.