Good News On Cheese’s Health Benefits

Winter 2016 – It is never hard to find people who love specialty cheese. But there is often some hold back because cheese is high in fat content. This has always been an overrated concern because cheese is so rich. People only eat small amounts at a time.

Now, however, the health benefits of cheese have started percolating through mainstream media. The most recent example? A big story in Time magazine headlined, “The Case for Eating Cheese is Stronger Than Ever.” The article focuses on five ‘nutritional perks’ of cheese and the following is an excerpt:

  1. It’s high in protein, calcium and hard-to-get B12. Cheese contains almost as much protein as it does fat…
  2. It may help your heart. A 2016 paper published in the Journal of the American Heart Association found that eating a little more than an ounce of cheese daily was linked to about a 3 percent lower risk of stroke.
  3. It doesn’t increase high blood pressure risk. Salty as it is, the cheese wasn’t linked to hypertension in another analysis of studies [at the American Heart Association].
  4. It’s full of good bacteria. The bacteria in cheese might also be beneficial. Some evidence [from Danish scientists] suggests that eating cheese favorably changes the microbiota, the concentration of bugs in the gut, which in turn may be improving metabolism.
  5. It contains a particularly great fatty acid. Gökhan Hotamisligil, professor of genetics and metabolism at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, believes that the reason cheese can be so high in nutritional baddies without having detrimental health effects is that nutrition categories are too broad. “The general view about fat is very crude,” he says. “We say fatty acids, but there are thousands of fatty acids, and they cannot all be conducting the same biology.” In 2008, Hotamisligil and his team were searching for the most unique lipids they could find when they stumbled upon palmitoleate. “It turns out that this is really a wonderful fatty acid,” he says. It’s generated by the body in small amounts, but it’s found most abundantly in full-fat dairy products — especially cheese. Palmitoleate neutralizes the damage caused by saturated fatty acids, acts like insulin by getting excess sugar out of the blood and is anti-inflammatory, says Hotamisligil. Together, these properties can help protect against excessive lipids and type-2 diabetes, he says

The key is that there is a shift in medical understanding about food. Broad categories, such as ‘fat’, are no longer being seen as good or bad. Foods have diverse molecules, and what they do is just beginning to be understood.