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 said no.

Here are their detailed responses:

Claire Collins, Nutritionist

No

Unless you have an allergy to cow’s milk protein or dairy produce, 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.

Evangeline Mantzioris, Dietician

No

Cheese contains a variety of nutritious components which need to be considered. Most of the components—calcium, protein and saturated fats—are also in other dairy products. Calcium is important for reducing the risk of osteoporosis and protein is required for synthesis and repair of tissues. These two provide clear benefits to our health. The saturated fat in cheese is more controversial in terms of its role in the development of heart disease. But the consensus from large studies is that cheese is neutral—that is, it neither has a positive or negative effect.

Cheese is also a fermented food, containing bacteria or yeast, which contribute to healthy microbiomes. But remember a serve of cheese (40g) has about 500-650kj, so stick to the guidelines of consuming three serves of dairy per day and including some of these as cheese—if you like it. If you’re trying to reduce weight or have existing heart disease, check with your doctor.

Rebecca Reynolds, Nutritionist

No

Cheese is a good food. It’s an important source of beneficial nutrients for omnivores and vegetarians, such as calcium. One third of Australians consume cheese—mostly hard cheeses, such as cheddar. Dairy products and their alternatives (such as soy-based cheese) are a core recommended food group in the Australian Dietary Guidelines, although it’s advised people aged two years and over consume reduced-fat alternatives (such as reduced-fat cheddar cheese—although only 15% of cheese consumed is reduced-fat).

This is because fat is an energy-dense nutrient and lots of us are overweight, and because a lot of the fat in cheese is the ‘bad’ saturated fat. But some evidence suggests dairy is either neutral or beneficial to heart health—including full-fat products.

Cheese is also high in protein, which our bodies need. Some negative aspects of cheese include its higher salt content, the food poisoning risk of some varieties posed to pregnant women, and the ethical aspects involved in its production (cow and bobby calf welfare, greenhouse gas emissions, and fair pay to dairy farmers).

Regina Belski, Dietician

No

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.

Yutang Wang, Biomedical Scientist

No

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).

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

5 ways eating cheese can actually help you lose kilos

We all know how we wallow in self-pity when we’re upset and subject our bodies to those cheese-loaded pizzas and fries. After that, we wallow in misery about the extra calories and kilos we have added to our bodies. Well, all that won’t happen anymore, because, as it turns out, cheese can actually make you lose weight if you eat it right.

Multiple surveys over time have found that people who eat more cheese tend to have a lower body mass index (BMI).

Here’s how you can eat cheese right to lose weight:

Eat fresh mozzarella for snacks

According to a study published in British Journal of Nutrition, people who eat a high-protein, moderate-calorie cheese snack eat less during their next meal. And we all know how snacking adds those calories to the body, don’t we?

Adding a bit of cheese to your sandwich instead of mayonnaise is healthier. Photo courtesy Pinterest.

Women’s Health magazine reports, “Even if you go with a version made from whole milk, you’ll still only set yourself back 85 calories if you indulge in an ounce of fresh mozzarella–many bags of potato chips come in past 200.”

Also read: Are you PMSing? Alcohol intake could be the reason

Replace mayonnaise with cheese

If you’re in the habit of spreading mayonnaise on your sandwich, then here’s a better option: put cheese instead. One tablespoon of full-fat mayonnaise has 94 calories and 10 grams of fat. However, a tablespoon of whipped cream cheese has 30 calories and two and a half grams of fat–much lesser in comparison to your regular mayo. This small tweak can help you effectively cut down your daily intake of calories.

You can experiment with feta cheese in salads and homemade pizzas. Photo courtesy: Pinterest.

Also read: This woman shows shedding kilos is possible even while eating momos and thalis

Use feta cheese In homemade salads and pizzas

Feta cheese is a commonly used ingredient in Mediterranean cuisine. It reduces the risk of heart diseases, and also has lower fat content in comparison to other kinds of cheese.

“The tangy flavor goes a long way with just a small amount topped on salads or in a wrap. Moreover, it’s high in calcium to keep your bones strong. You’ll get 14 per cent of your daily recommended calcium in just one serving,” states a report published in journal Centre For Medical Weight Loss (CMWL).

Cottage cheese for a healthier life

Good old cottage cheese, or even our very own paneer, is a good source of protein. If you don’t like to eat regular cheese, you can swap it with paneer. You can add cottage cheese to a bowl of fresh fruits and eat it for a nutrition-packed breakfast.

A bowl of fresh fruit and cottage cheese can be an ideal breakfast option for those looking to eat healthy. Photo courtesy: Pinterest.

Also read: Love fries? You can eat them and still lose weight!

Say hello to cheddar cheese

If you haven’t eaten cheddar cheese before, it’s time you try it. Not only does it taste amazing, it also makes for a lower-calorie options, and can be used in a lot of different cuisines in place of saturated fats. You can add it to sandwiches or even paranthas as stuffing.

Happy feasting, guys!

Science: Eating lots of cheese may help you lose weight

Forget what you have heard about cheese – we have Gouda news for you.

Eating cheese does not raise your cholesterol and could actually help you lose weight, scientists have found.

Research from Ireland found people who eat a lot of cheese do not have a higher cholesterol than those who don’t.

They also discovered that people who eat more dairy tend to have a lower body mass index.

But current health guidelines suggest eating foods high in saturated fat can increase your risk of high cholesterol.

Evidence strongly suggests that high cholesterol can increase the risk of heart attack, stroke, blood clots and angina.

It is often caused by an unhealthy diet or having a family history of stroke or heart disease.

For the study, 1,500 Irish adults kept a four-day food diary and were asked to note how much dairy they ate.

Their blood samples were then analysed for cholesterol levels and other metabolic health problems.They found that the adults with a lower body mass index ate more dairy.

However, lower blood pressure was associated with eating cheese more than other products like yogurt and milk.

They found that while adults who ate large amounts of cheese consumed more saturated fat, they did not have the associated higher cholesterol.

Dr. Emma Feeney, Food for Health Ireland’s program manager, said: “Simply looking at individual foods does not reflect the real story.

“What will really impact on our metabolic health, is the overall pattern in which whole foods are consumed.”

Eating cheese every day may help to protect heart health

If you’re a cheese lover, you will welcome the results of this new study with open arms. Researchers suggest that eating around 40 grams (or 1.41 ounces) of cheese every day could help to reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke.

Share on PinterestResearchers suggest that eating a small amount of cheese every day may benefit heart health.

These new findings come from an analysis of 15 observational studies that looked at the effects of cheese intake on the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD).

Study co-author Li-Qiang Qin — who works in the Department of Nutrition and Food Hygiene at Soochow University’s School of Public Health in China — and colleagues report their results in the European Journal of Nutrition.

Cheese is undoubtedly one of our favorite foods. In 2015, the population of the United States consumed the equivalent of 37.1 pounds of cheese per person, with Cheddar and mozzarella being the most popular choices.

While cheese contains some nutrients that are beneficial to health — such as calcium, zinc, and vitamins A and B-12 — it is also high in saturated fats, which can increase cholesterol levels and raise the risk of heart disease and stroke.

The new study, however, suggests that this popular dairy product could have the opposite effect on cardiovascular health.

CVD risk reduced by up to 18 percent

For their study, Qin and colleagues conducted a meta-analysis of 15 observational studies that investigated how cheese consumption influenced the total risk of CVD, as well as the risks of coronary heart disease (CHD) and stroke.

In total, the studies included more than 200,000 participants, and the effects of cheese intake were monitored for more than 10 years. The majority of studies included subjects who were free of CVD at study baseline.

The analysis revealed that people who regularly consumed cheese were up to 18 percent less likely to develop CVD, up to 14 percent less likely to develop CHD, and up to 10 percent less likely to have a stroke, compared with those who had a low cheese intake.

The scientists report that these effects were strongest among participants who consumed around 40 grams, or 1.41 ounces, of cheese every day. In conclusion, they write:

“This meta-analysis of prospective studies suggests a nonlinear inverse association between cheese consumption and risk of CVD.”

Be cautious

The team’s findings build on those of a widely publicized observational analysis that was published earlier this year, which linked cheese and other dairy products to a reduced risk of cardiovascular and all-cause mortality.

But don’t stock up on the Cheddar just yet; both studies have their own limitations. Importantly, they are observational, so they do not prove a causal association between cheese intake and better cardiovascular health.

What is more, both studies have links to the dairy industry; the earlier study received funding from the Global Dairy Platform, Dairy Research Institute, and Dairy Australia, while the latest study was conducted with the help researchers from the Yili Group, a dairy company based in China.

However, it is hard to conclude whether these associations had any influence on the study results.

Until additional studies confirm such findings, it is important to remember that cheese is high in saturated fats, which can be harmful to heart health in high amounts.

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommend that around 5–6 percent of our daily calories should come from saturated fats, and to switch to low-fat dairy products to help stay within this limit.

Eating Cheese Every Day May Actually Be Good for You

Cheese is typically considered more of an indulgence than a health food, but a new review of research suggests that it may not be as bad for you as once thought. In fact, people in the analysis who ate a little bit of cheese every day were less likely to develop heart disease or have a stroke, compared to those who rarely or never ate cheese.

Cheese, like other dairy products, contains high levels of saturated fat—which has been linked to high cholesterol, atherosclerosis and an increased risk of heart disease. (Recently, however, some nutrition experts believe that saturated fat is more benign.) But cheese also contains potentially beneficial ingredients like calcium, protein and probiotics, wrote the authors of the new paper, published in the European Journal of Nutrition.

To learn more about how long-term cheese consumption affects a person’s risk for cardiovascular disease, researchers from China and the Netherlands combined and analyzed data from 15 observational studies including more than 200,000 people. All but one of the studies excluded people with existing heart disease, and all but two tracked people for 10 years or more.

MORE: The Case for Eating Cheese is Stronger Than Ever

The researchers’ findings were “certainly different from what people might expect,” says Dr. Allan Stewart, director of aortic surgery at Ichan School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Medical Center, who was not involved in the new analysis. Overall, people who consumed high levels of cheese had a 14% lower risk of developing coronary heart disease and were 10% less likely to have a stroke than those who rarely or never ate cheese.

The relationship, however, was U-shaped rather than linear—meaning that higher quantities of cheese were not necessarily better. The people who had the lowest risks for heart disease and stroke were those who consumed, on average, about 40 grams a day—about the size of a matchbook. (According to the review, the average American eats about 42.5 grams a day.)

“This is not the same as eating a big slice of cheesy pizza every day,” says Stewart. He also cautions against reading too much into data that’s self-reported—as much of the data was—because people tend to over- or under-estimate their consumption of specific foods.

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Stewart points out that the study was only able to find an association between cheese consumption and decreased risk of heart disease, rather than a cause-and-effect relationship. It could be that people who eat cheese on a daily basis are healthier overall, or have more disposable income and higher socioeconomic statuses.

But it’s also possible that cheese has beneficial qualities that offset the negative impact of its high saturated fat content, says Stewart. “Cheese can be high in probiotics, which tend to put you in less of an inflammatory state,” he says. Cheese also contains conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), an unsaturated fatty acid that may increase the amount of of HDL “good” cholesterol and decrease “bad” LDL levels.

“There is some evidence that cheese—as a substitute for milk, for example—may actually have a protective effect on the heart,” says Stewart. “No one’s saying you should definitely go out and eat 40 grams of cheese a day. But on the upside, a bit of cheese on a cracker doesn’t sound unreasonable.”

The study did not look at different types of cheeses, and Stewart says more research is needed to know whether certain varieties hold more health benefits (or risks) than others. Overall, though, the news is good for cheese lovers.

“We’re always are searching for ways to minimize heart disease and reduce atherosclerosis,” he says. “It’s promising to find that something that actually tastes good—and pairs well with a nice glass of red wine—may offer some protection, as well.”

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Full-Fat Cheese Is Totally Fine, Says Science

Photo: Brogues Cozens-Mcneelance/EyeEm/Getty Images​

Some experts adamantly advocate for giving up dairy, while others caution that dairy products provide important nutrients, like calcium, that are tougher to absorb from other sources. Indeed recent research suggests that following a dairy-free diet may increase your risk of osteoporosis. Still, full-fat products like cheese and yogurt tend to get a bad rap. (FYI, here’s the fit woman’s guide to getting enough calcium.)

Right now, people are all about “healthy fats”-like the monounsaturated fat that comes from avocado or polyunsaturated fat and omega 3 fatty acids that come from salmon-but dairy doesn’t get to be part of the good-for-you fat club because it contains higher levels of a different kind of fat : the unsaturated kind of fat. At the moment, the USDA dietary guidelines recommend that people of all ages choose fat-free or low-fat dairy over full-fat options. That’s because it’s been thought for decades that eating too much saturated fat ups your cholesterol and thus increases your risk of heart disease.

That said, scientists have been exploring whether or not this is entirely true. A study published in Lancet looked into how eating dairy relates to heart disease and death. More than 136,000 people from 21 countries reported on how much high- and low-fat dairy they ate over the course of 15 years, and researchers also kept track of how many of the subjects suffered from heart disease or died. Of the people who ate only full-fat dairy, the group that ate about three servings per day had a lower mortality rate than those who had less than 1/2 servings per day. Upping your fat-filled dairy intake might not be such a bad idea if you’ve been cutting it out. (This is probably another reason to consider swapping your skim milk habit for whole milk.)

Last year, a review published in the European Journal of Epidemiology brought similar good news. Researchers analyzed 29 previous studies to see if dairy is bad for your heart health, and in the end, they found “no associations between total dairy, high- and low-fat dairy, milk and the health outcomes including all-cause mortality, coronary heart disease or cardiovascular disease.” What does this mean for your cheese and cracker habit? Basically, there’s no evidence that eating any kind of dairy is bad for your overall heart health. Score! (Side note: Low-fat diets actually sabotage your weight loss.)

Yet another review published in Advances In Nutrition in 2016 showed that eating dairy, regardless of fat content, doesn’t appear to increase the risk of any heart-related health issues. That means they couldn’t find any measurable differences between the heart health of people who eat full-fat dairy, low-fat dairy, or no dairy at all. It also didn’t matter how people were consuming dairy-cheese, milk, or yogurt all faired the same when it came to showing a relationship between dairy and cardiovascular problems.

Does this mean you can eat as much gouda as you want from now until forever? Not necessarily. “Overconsumption of any food that is high in calories and/or saturated fat can lead to weight gain and digestive issues,” food scientist Taylor Wallace, Ph.D. told us in Is Cheese Really as Addictive as Drugs?. So just like most things, it’s still best to eat full-fat cheese in moderation.

Say cheese?

Dairy products don’t seem to harm the heart. But plant-based fats are probably a better choice than cheese.

Published: January, 2017


Image: AlexPro9500/Thinkstock

Health-conscious consumers know to steer clear of diets that include lots of meat—especially fatty, salty processed meat. But what’s the deal with dairy? Nutrition experts have long recommended low-fat milk and yogurt as good choices for getting the two to three daily servings of dairy recommended by federal dietary guidelines.

Over the past few decades, Americans have been spooning up more yogurt and drinking much less milk. But the biggest change by far has been in our cheese consumption, which has skyrocketed since the 1970s (see “Trends in dairy intake: Less milk, more cheese and yogurt”).

Dairy products—especially cheese—are a major source of saturated fat in the average American diet. Saturated fats tend to raise harmful LDL cholesterol, which can boost heart disease risk. But research on the role of dairy in heart disease risk has been mixed and has spread some confusion. Are full-fat cheese and yogurt okay, or should you avoid those foods? A report that pooled data from three large, long-term Harvard studies offers some insight and advice.

Dairy fat and heart disease

In a nutshell, researchers found that dairy fat was not associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease (defined as nonfatal heart attack, fatal heart disease, and stroke) when compared with the same amount of calories from carbohydrates. However, replacing about 5% of calories from dairy fat with a similar amount of unsaturated fat from vegetables or vegetable oil was linked to a 24% lower risk of cardiovascular disease.

“Overall, the results are consistent with current dietary recommendations to consume mostly unsaturated fats rather than saturated fats,” says Dr. Frank Hu, professor of nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and senior author of the study.

Published in the August 2016 American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the study looked at more than 220,000 women and men in the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study, the Nurses’ Health Study, and the Nurses’ Health Study II, all of which explore the role of risk factors (especially diet and lifestyle) in major chronic diseases. The participants filled out food questionnaires every four years for up to 26 years. The dairy products they tracked included skim and low-fat milk, whole milk, cream, ice cream, yogurt, cottage and ricotta cheeses, cream cheese, and other cheese.

The analysis also suggested that replacing dairy fat with other animal fat (that is, from meat) would slightly raise the risk for cardiovascular disease. Several earlier studies have suggested that diets that include dairy products—even full-fat dairy—don’t seem to raise heart disease risk and may even help reduce risk for obesity and type 2 diabetes.

More than just the fat

The explanation for these observations isn’t entirely clear, but the other nutrients in dairy products could play a role, says Dr. Hu. Milk is a good source of calcium and potassium (two minerals important for blood pressure control) as well as protein, which can help you feel satisfied and less likely to overeat. Both yogurt and kefir (a tangy dairy drink) also contain live bacteria known as probiotics thought to be beneficial to the digestive system and possibly even the cardiovascular system. But at this point, we know far too little about which types of bacteria might be helpful—or how they function and survive either in foods or in your body—to give any advice about specific brands of yogurt or other products, Dr. Hu notes.

He recommends up to two servings of dairy daily for most adults. “But I wouldn’t choose full-fat milk or eat a lot of cheese,” he says. Pizza, which is probably the biggest cheese vehicle in the American diet, is especially unhealthy because it’s typically made with a refined white-flour crust and often topped with unhealthful meats, such as pepperoni or sausage, he notes. You’re much better off enjoying a small piece of cheese as a snack with fruit or whole-grain crackers, or sprinkled on a salad (see “What’s a serving of dairy?” for serving size guidelines).

As for yogurt, look for plain varieties with no or little added sugar. Some brands add a full tablespoon of sugar—half the amount of sugar the American Heart Association recommends that women consume in an entire day. And for men, it’s about a third of the daily suggested limit. Instead, mix fresh or dried fruit into your yogurt for added sweetness.

Trends in dairy intake: Less milk, more cheese and yogurt

On average, Americans now drink about half as much milk (just over a half-cup per day) as they did in the 1970s. But our yogurt intake has quadrupled, and we now chow down 35 pounds of cheese per person every year—up from just 11 pounds per year in 1970. Much of this rise comes from the popularity of convenience foods like frozen pizza, macaroni and cheese, and prepackaged cheese slices, as well as our love of cheese-rich Italian and Tex-Mex cuisines.

What counts as a serving of dairy?

Per the U.S. Dietary Guidelines, foods in the dairy group include milk and foods made from milk that retain their calcium content, as well as calcium-fortified soy milk. Foods made from milk that have little or no calcium (cream cheese, cream, and butter) are not included.

Food

What counts as one serving?

Milk

1 cup (8 ounces)

Yogurt

1 cup (8 ounces)

(Note: Single-serving yogurt containers range from 4 to 6 ounces.)

Hard cheese
(cheddar, mozzarella, Swiss, Parmesan)

1.5 ounces

(Note: This is about the size of four dice or 1/3 cup if shredded.)

Ricotta cheese

½ cup

Cottage cheese

2 cups

(Note: ½ cup is a typical portion size but only counts as ¼ of a serving of dairy.)

Calcium-fortified
soy milk

1 cup

Source: USDA, ChooseMyPlate.gov.

Disclaimer:
As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing provides access to our library of archived content. Please note the date of last review on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.

Meals and food

Talk to your doctor or dietitian about the diet that is best for you.

Discover our healthy eating and drinking ideas.

Find out how to use food labels to make healthier choices.

Fats

If you have coronary heart disease, you need to be careful about the foods you eat.

It’s important to change the types of fat you eat. Eating too much unhealthy saturated and trans fats can increase high cholesterol. Choosing foods with healthier fats can help you lower your cholesterol and avoid more heart problems.

How eat less unhealthy fats and more healthier fats

  • Eat fewer bought cakes, biscuits and pastries. Limit take-away food like hamburgers, pizza and hot chips.
  • Choose lean cuts of meat or trim all the fat you can see. Remove skin from chicken.
  • Avoid processed meat (e.g. sausages and salami).
  • Eat fish instead of meat 2–3 times a week, and choose legume or bean-based meals twice a week.
  • Include nuts and seeds in your diet regularly.
  • Choose reduced fat milk, cheese and yoghurt.
  • When you’re cooking or preparing food, use healthier oils like olive and canola, and margarine spreads and dressings made from them, instead of butter or palm oil.

Read more about more about healthy fats.

Learn more about saturated and trans fats.

Salt

Salt is hidden in lots of food. The amount of salt you eat should be less than 4 g per day. That’s less than a teaspoon. Salt holds fluid in your body. If you eat too much salt, the extra water stored in your body raises your blood pressure.

Salt is made up of sodium and chloride. It’s the sodium that can be bad for your health, and is listed on food packages.

Salty foods

Foods with high-salt levels include:

  • commercially baked products like biscuits, pastries, pies and some breads
  • processed meat, such as ham, bacon, sausages, hot dogs, tinned meat, corned meat and pies
  • take-away foods, such as hamburgers, pizza, hot chips, noodles, potato chips, many Asian foods, pasta and fried chicken
  • packaged foods, such as tinned and instant soup, fish in brine and instant noodles
  • condiments and sauces like packet seasoning, stock cubes, soy sauce and tomato sauce
  • snack foods like salted nuts, olives and dips

Milk Products

AHA Recommendation

  • Choose 2–3 servings of fat-free or low-fat dairy products for adults. Children should have two or more servings, teenagers and older adults should have four.
  • For dessert or snacks, choose ice milk, frozen or fruited low-fat or nonfat yogurt, sherbet, sorbet or low-fat puddings.

Choose from:

  • Fat-free, zero-fat, no-fat or nonfat milk
  • ½–1% low-fat or light milk
  • Nonfat or low-fat dry milk powder
  • Evaporated fat-free milk
  • Buttermilk made from fat-free or 1% fat milk
  • Fat-free or low-fat yogurt
  • Frozen fat-free or low-fat yogurt
  • Drinks made with fat-free or 1% fat milk and cocoa
    (or other low-fat drink powders)
  • Low-fat cheeses (dry-curd or low-fat, cottage cheese, low-fat natural cheeses or processed cheeses made with nonfat or low-fat milk with no more than 3 grams of fat per ounce and no more than 2 grams of saturated fat per ounce)
  • Fat-free or low-fat ice cream (no more than 3 grams of fat per 1/2 cup serving)

Shopping and preparation tips

  • Fat-free, ½% fat and 1% fat milk all provide slightly more nutrients than whole milk and 2% fat milk. But they’re much lower in fat, saturated fat, cholesterol and calories.
  • If you’re used to whole-milk products (3.5% fat), you may find it easier to taper off slowly. Try 1% low-fat milk first, then change to ½% low-fat milk. Soon you’ll be able to switch to fat-free milk with no trouble.

Note: The servings per day of milk products are higher to reflect revised recommendations for calcium intake — 1,000 milligrams for all adults until age 50; 1,200 milligrams at age 50 and older. For vitamin D, the revised recommendations are 400 I.U.s (International Units) for everyone age 51 and older; 600 I.U.s for age 71 and older.

Imitation Milk

AHA Recommendation

We recommend that adults and children age 2 and older use milk that’s low in dairy fats. This includes fortified fat-free (skim or nonfat) milk, fortified nonfat milk powder, and 1/2 percent and 1 percent low-fat milk.

The label on the container should show that the milk has been fortified with vitamins A and D. We also recommend buttermilk made from skim milk and canned evaporated skim milk.

Avoid substitutes that contain coconut oil, palm oil or palm kernel oil. These oils are very high in saturated fats. Saturated fats tend to raise the level of cholesterol in the blood. High blood cholesterol is one of the six major risk factors for heart disease that can be changed, treated or modified. It can also lead to developing other heart and blood vessel diseases.

Is Cheese Bad for Your Heart? Plus, the Types of Cheese That Are Actually Healthy

Judging by the number of cooking shows that air each week and the plethora of restaurants within a five-mile radius of wherever you’re sitting right now, it’s pretty safe to say we are a nation obsessed with food. This isn’t all bad. But taken too far, it can be. Especially when it comes to cheese.

Admit it — if you could put cheese on everything you ate, you’d do it. Maybe you already do?

Of all the foods that could be increasing your heart disease risk, cheese seems to hover near the top of the list. But perhaps that’s only true if you eat too much of it.

So, what’s the deal with cheese? Can you keep eating it or should you throw it out? Is it yet another food that’s slowly killing you — or is a little bit actually a good thing?

Is cheese unhealthy?

Shredded cheese | iStock.com/Anna_Kurz

Whether or not you should eat cheese really depends on the type of cheese — or cheese-like product — you are consuming.

Highly processed cheeses, such as cheese spreads and powdered “cheese” (it’s still technically cheese, in case you were wondering) do not provide the same health benefits as more “natural” cheeses you might find at a deli or farmers market.

But even many “healthy” cheese varieties are relatively high in sodium, saturated fat, and calories per serving. Just because real cheese has health benefits does not mean you can expect to eat large amounts of it without consequences.

Having some cheese on your salad or as part of a sandwich isn’t a crime. It’s what you pair it with (or put it on) — and how often you eat it — that matters most. Pizza, nachos, and cheesy macaroni aren’t necessarily healthy because cheese is technically healthy. Look at the whole, not just one of the parts.

Is cheese bad for your heart?

Cheese, being an animal product, contains saturated fat. This causes many people to shun it and other dairy products, despite its high concentrations of protein, vitamins, and minerals.

It also contains sugar, and just the thought of willingly consuming carbs leaves some people mortified beyond reassurance.

Something that contains saturated fat and sugar may seem like it’s the worst thing you can put into your body — especially if you’re trying to protect your heart. But cheese gets a bad rap, considering it’s completely healthy and safe to eat — if you’re not allergic or intolerant to it.

It’s an excellent source of B vitamins, calcium, protein, and several essential minerals. In many ways, it’s healthier than a lot of the stuff in your fridge because it actually has health benefits — unlike many condiments and cream-based products.

Research suggests that the fat in dairy won’t hurt your heart. However, it’s still recommended that you eat it — yes — in moderation. A few pieces of pizza every now and then? Fine. A bowl of macaroni and cheese after a long day? Great. But don’t spend too much time in the cheese aisle. Too much of anything is definitely not heart-healthy.

Healthy cheese: The best cheeses you can eat

Greek Feta Cheese | Mizina/iStock/Getty Images

If you can’t completely break off your slightly obsessive relationship with cheese (it’s made to make you want more — there’s nothing to be ashamed of), some cheeses are slightly healthier than others. If you’re going to have it, make sure it’s one of these cheeses:

  • Feta
  • Sharp cheddar
  • Swiss
  • Cottage
  • Fresh mozzarella
  • Goat

For the most part, stay away from cream cheese, American cheese (is it really cheese?), and gruyere. These cheeses and many others are higher in calories and fat, which may all but cancel out their health benefits if you aren’t careful.

You don’t have to live a cheese-free life. Just mind which cheeses you eat and how often/how much of them you have. It’s only bad for your heart if it makes up the majority of your daily calories. And honestly, if you even have to question whether or not you fall into that category, it may be time to get help for your cheese obsession.

Don’t Say Cheese

WASHINGTON – Cheese is giving Americans a heart attack, says the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), which is urging us to cut back. Cheese consumption has almost tripled since 1970, making cheese the nation’s biggest source of saturated fat.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the average American eats 30 pounds of cheese a year. That compares to only 11 pounds in 1970.

“Americans are eating far too much fatty cheese,” said Margo Wootan, Nutrition Policy Director for CSPI. “Unfortunately, it’s everywhere: on sandwiches, on lean chicken, on salads, and even on fries. And it’s doing even more damage to our hearts than beef or butter.”

“Many people think of calcium-rich cheese as healthful, but it’s a dangerous trap,” continued Wootan. “People would be better off getting their calcium from foods like fat-free (skim) or 1% milk, low-fat yogurt, low-fat cheese, or calcium-fortified orange juice.”

CSPI urges people to help their heart by making simple changes, including:

  • Order pizza with half the regular amount of cheese. And avoid cheese-stuffed-crust pizzas like Pizza Hut’s The Insider, which has an extra layer of cheese between its two crusts.
  • At restaurants, order sandwiches and burgers without cheese. Adding cheese to a McDonald’s Quarter Pounder or Burger King Whopper adds an extra five grams of saturated fat — about a quarter of a day’s worth.
  • Switch to lite or reduced-fat cheese.
  • Limit yourself to two ounces of full-fat cheese per week (the average person now eats four times as much). That would cut more than four grams of saturated fat each day from the average diet — almost a quarter of a day’s worth.

“Heart disease is the leading cause of death for American men and women,” said Dr. William E. Connor, professor of Medicine and Clinical Nutrition at the Oregon Health Sciences University. “Anything Americans can do to reduce their intake of saturated fat and cholesterol, such as cutting back on cheese, would lessen the risk of heart disease.”

“Just one ounce of full-fat cheese can have as much as six grams of artery-clogging fat — a third of a day’s worth,” said Wootan. “And an ounce isn’t much, just 1 1/2 slices of processed cheese, a 1 1/4-inch cube of cheddar or most other hard cheeses, or the cheese on a slice of a large pizza.”

“Parmesan and Romano cheeses are just as fatty as other cheeses, but are so flavorful that a little goes a long way,” continued Wootan. “A tablespoon or two are all that’s needed to zip up a bowl of pasta or salad, and that means less saturated fat.”

In a letter to Secretary Tommy Thompson, CSPI urged the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to mount national campaigns to encourage Americans to eat less saturated fat — including less cheese — and more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. The letter stated, “According to HHS’s estimates, between 310,000 and 580,000 Americans die prematurely every year due to poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle. Among the most important dietary factors is high intake of saturated fat.”

Milk, yoghurt and cheese

Milk, yoghurt and cheese can be part of a healthy eating pattern, especially when eaten with fruit, vegetables or wholegrains. For most people, it’s up to you whether you choose reduced fat or whole milk, yoghurt and cheese, but if you have high blood cholesterol, we recommend choosing reduced fat varieties. For everyone, we recommend choosing unflavoured varieties of milk, yoghurt and cheese to limit added sugars. If you are trying to lower your kilojoule intake, many of the reduced fat varieties are lower in kilojoules.

How much to eat

Aim for 2-4 serves of milk, cheese and yoghurt or alternatives each day.

The recommended number of serves depends on your age and gender. For more information on what’s right for you, visit the Australian Dietary Guidelines website or talk to an Accredited Practising Dietitian.

What is a serve?

Milk, cheese, yoghurt and alternatives:

Tips for including milk, yoghurt and cheese in your diet

  • Enjoy a latte on your way to work.
  • Enjoy a bowl of wholegrain breakfast cereal with unflavoured yoghurt or milk, fruit, nuts and seeds to start your day.
  • Include unflavoured yoghurt or evaporated milk instead of cream or butter when cooking soups and curries to add a creamy texture. Add the yoghurt or milk at the end of the cooking process so it doesn’t split.
  • Add cheese with tomato and avocado to wholegrain crackers for a tasty snack.

Learn more about eating healthily in our food and nutrition guide.

Cardiovascular Disease and Milk Products: Summary of Evidence

Back to Cardiovascular Disease

A large and robust body of evidence indicates that milk products are associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.

Highlights

  • Milk products, including those that are higher in fat, are associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease;
  • High-fat milk products have a neutral or beneficial association with cardiovascular disease;
  • Yogurt and cheese are associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease including heart disease and stroke;
  • Several nutrients and other components may explain the beneficial role of milk products on cardiovascular health. These include: calcium, vitamin D, protein, bioactive peptides, fatty acids.

Synopsis

A large and strong body of scientific evidence indicates that milk product consumption is associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. In fact, the evidence indicates that milk products, including those that are higher in fat such as cheese may help to protect cardiovascular health. This has led researchers to conclude that current evidence does not support a focus on low-fat dairy foods in dietary guidance.

The Evidence

A meta-analysis of 27 prospective cohort studies, published by Gholami et al. in 2017, evaluated the association of the consumption of dairy products on cardiovascular disease.1

  • Dairy consumption was associated with a 10% lower risk of cardiovascular disease and a 12% lower risk of stroke.
  • Dairy consumption was also associated with a 20% lower risk of mortality from stroke.
  • No association was observed between total dairy intake and coronary heart disease.

A meta-analysis of 31 prospective cohort studies, published in 2016 by Alexander et al., examined the association between dairy consumption and the risk of cardiovascular disease.2

  • Dairy consumption, including full-fat dairy, was associated with a 9% reduced risk of stroke;
  • Calcium from dairy sources was associated with a 31% lower risk of stroke;
  • Cheese was associated with an 18% and 13% reduced risk of coronary heart disease and stroke, respectively.

In 2016, Drouin-Chartier et al. published a systematic review of meta-analyses of prospective cohort studies which provides an in-depth perspective on the associations between dairy product consumption and the risk of cardiovascular-related clinical outcomes.3 This review concluded there is no evidence that the consumption of any form of dairy is detrimentally associated with any cardiovascular-related clinical outcome. In fact:

  • High quality evidence indicates total dairy consumption is associated with a lower risk of hypertension;
  • High quality evidence indicates low-fat dairy and yogurt intakes are associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes;
  • Moderate-quality evidence suggests total dairy food consumption is associated with a lower risk of stroke, metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes;
  • High to moderate quality evidence indicates the consumption of regular and high-fat dairy does not increase the risk of coronary artery disease, stroke, hypertension or type 2 diabetes.

In 2016, Drouin-Chartier et al. also published a comprehensive review of the evidence from randomized controlled trials examining the impact of dairy foods and dairy fat on cardiometabolic risk factors including blood-lipids, blood pressure, insulin resistance and vascular function.4 This review suggests the focus on low-fat dairy foods instead of regular-fat dairy foods in dietary guidelines is unwarranted.

  • Increasing consumption of dairy foods generally has no significant effect on LDL cholesterol, regardless of their form or fat content;
  • Dairy food consumption has no effect on HDL cholesterol or triglyceride concentrations;
  • Consumption of dairy foods and dairy fat does not appear to impact systemic inflammation;
  • Dairy consumption has no impact on insulin resistance and glucose and insulin homeostasis in the short term; however, may be beneficial in the long-term.
  • Most randomized controlled trials have shown no effect of dairy on blood pressure or vascular function; however, the authors note these results are not consistent with epidemiological evidence that dairy food consumption is associated with a reduced risk of hypertension.

A meta-analysis of 15 prospective cohort studies, published in 2016 by Chen et al. evaluated associations between cheese consumption and the risk of cardiovascular disease, coronary heart disease and stroke. Most of the studies (13/15) followed participants for more than 10 years.5

  • Higher compared with lower cheese consumption was associated with a 14% lower risk of coronary heart disease and a 10% lower risk of stroke and total cardiovascular disease.
  • The largest reductions in cardiovascular disease risk were observed with consumption of about 40 g of cheese per day.

The landmark PURE (Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiology) study, assessed the associations between dairy food consumption and the risk of major cardiovascular disease events (i.e., heart attack, stroke, heart failure and death due to cardiovascular causes). This study, published in 2018 based on data from 136,000 adults from 21 countries on 5 continents, followed for a median of 9.1 years, concluded:6

  • Dairy food consumption (>2 servings/day vs 0) was associated with a 22% lower risk of cardiovascular disease and a 34% lower risk of stroke;
  • Milk consumption (>1 serving/day vs 0) was associated with an 18% lower risk of cardiovascular disease;
  • Yogurt consumption (>1 serving/day vs 0) was associated with a 10% lower risk of cardiovascular disease;
  • Full-fat dairy consumption (>1 serving/day vs 0) was associated with a 32% lower risk of cardiovascular disease.

Potential Mechanisms

The consumption of dairy products has been inversely associated with several risk factors for cardiovascular disease, including: hypertension, obesity, type 2 diabetes and inflammation.

The effects of dairy foods may be mediated by a number of specific micronutrients, amino acids, fatty acids, and probiotics.7

Several nutrients found in dairy products may be beneficial to cardiovascular health (summarized in the table below).8,9 Furthermore, there is evidence to suggest that the complex matrix of dairy foods as a whole rather than just individual components may be as important to improving cardiovascular health.8

Milk component Potential mechanistic action
Vitamin D
  • Improvement of blood lipid profile
  • Increase in insulin sensitivity
  • Blood pressure control via the regulation of the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system
Calcium
  • Decrease in vascular resistance and blood pressure
  • Improvement of blood lipid profile
  • Inhibition of fat absorption by binding with fatty acids to form insoluble soaps
Potassium
  • Blood pressure reduction
Magnesium
  • Blood pressure control
Phosphorus
  • Blood pressure management
Protein and bioactive peptides
  • Increase in satiety levels
  • Improvement of blood lipid profile
  • Reduction in blood pressure through the inhibition of the angiotensin-1 converting enzyme
Dairy fatty acids, e.g., conjugated linoleic acid
  • Weight management via the inhibition of adipogenesis and the regulation of lipogenesis
  • Improvement of blood lipid profile
  • Increase in insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance
  • Anti-inflammatory effect

Conclusion

Current evidence indicates that milk products are not associated with an increased cardiovascular risk, regardless of their fat content.

In fact, a large and strong body of evidence suggests the consumption of dairy foods, including milk, cheese and yogurt, can help to protect cardiovascular health.

In addition, the evidence to date does not support current recommendations to choose lower fat dairy foods instead of full-fat dairy foods, such as regular-fat cheese.

Milk products are complex foods containing many key nutrients. Additional mechanistic studies are needed to fully understand how these components or the dairy food matrix may help reduce cardiovascular risk.

  1. Gholami F et al. The effect of dairy consumption on the prevalence of cardiovascular diseases: A meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies. J Cardiovas Thorac Res 2017;9:1-11.
  2. Alexander DD et al. Dairy consumption and CVD: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Br J Nutr 2016;115:737-750.
  3. Drouin-Chartier JP et al. Systematic review of the association between dairy product consumption and risk of cardiovascular-related clinical outcomes. Adv Nutr 2016;7:1026-1040.
  4. Drouin-Chartier JP et al. Comprehensive review of the impact of dairy foods and dairy fat on cardiometabolic risk. Adv Nutr 2016;1041-1051.
  5. Chen GC et al. Cheese consumption and risk of cardiovascular disease: a meta-analysis of prospective studies. Eur J Nutr 2016; doi:10.1007/s00394-016-1292-z.
  6. Dehghan M et al. Association of dairy intake with cardiovascular disease and mortality in 21 countries from 5 continents (PURE): a prospective cohort study. The Lancet 2018;392:2288-2297.
  7. Mozaffarian D and Wu JHY. Flavonoids, dairy foods, and cardiovascular and metabolic health: A review of emerging biologic pathways. Circ Res 2018;122:369-384.
  8. Rice BH. Dairy and cardiovascular disease: a review of recent observational research. Curr Nutr Rep 2014;3:130-138.
  9. Muldowney S and Kiely M. Vitamin D and cardiometabolic health: a review of the evidence. Nutr Res Rev2011;24:1-20.

Keywords: cardiovascular disease , saturated fat , coronary heart disease , stroke , bioactive peptides , conjugated linoleic acid

Cheese and heart disease

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