The big cheese

Published 1:08 pm Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Well, it is indeed football season, and most of you know that I absolutely love football, and even as a nutritionist, I can’t enjoy some classic gridiron battle whilst munching on bean sprouts. In that vein, this is the first in a series on comfort foods, and any redeeming qualities they might possess. 

Today’s comfort food is cheese. If you think about it, cheese is somewhat of a bizarre food. Cheese is a general term used to describe various milk-based products produced in a wide range of flavors, textures, and forms. While there is no exact information regarding the origin of cheese, archaeological studies show that its beginnings date as far back as 6000 BC. 

The word cheese comes from the Latin “caseus” from which the modern word “casein” is also derived. Casein is a protein found in milk and other dairy products. 

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I think it’s safe to say almost everyone loves at least one of the estimated 1,800 different types of cheese in the world, but are there any health benefits derived from consuming cheeses? As a matter of fact, there are. 

The high levels of calcium present in cheese help reduce high blood pressure. Dietary calcium regulates blood pressure by increasing intracellular calcium levels within vascular muscle cells (vascular muscle is considered “smooth” muscle), leading to vasoconstriction and by increasing blood vessel volume through the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system (RAAS). RAAS regulates sodium and water absorption in the kidneys, thus having a direct impact on systemic blood pressure (relating to the entire system as opposed to one particular portion).

Dairy fats in cheese contain conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) which reduces inflammation. Also, results from an Italian study suggest that CLAs may reduce markers linked to heart disease, such as reduction of plasmatic triacylglycerols and cholesterol. Plasmatic triacylglycerols are very low-density lipoproteins that may contribute to the hardening of the arteries or thickening of artery walls (arteriosclerosis) which increases the risk of stroke and heart attack, and coronary disease. 

The calcium and protein in cheese are great for building strong bones and muscles. Whey protein, the same type of protein used in many muscle-building supplements, is plentiful in cheese. Cheese is loaded with calcium that helps develop strong bones to prevent osteoporosis. Also, vitamins A, D, K, and zinc present in cheese also contribute to promoting bone health and muscle development. 

Cheese is also a good source of glutathione. Glutathione is an antioxidant that may help blood vessels work better by increasing blood vessel diameter and blood flow, which reduces coronary risk factors. Glutathione is also effective at preventing damage to important cellular components caused by reactive oxygen, which also helps maintain brain health. 

Since cheese is a fermented food, it contains probiotic bacteria. Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that are actually good for you. Probiotics restore the composition of the gut microbiome (the microorganisms in a particular environment) which helps in the prevention of gut inflammation.       

Now, even though cheese provides many valuable nutrients, it is still often high in saturated fat and salt. Consuming too much could lead to high cholesterol levels, and high blood pressure, increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease. Also, some folks have trouble fully digesting cheese because of lactose intolerance. Lactose is milk sugar and is broken down in the small intestine by an enzyme called “lactase.” Lactose intolerance is caused by a deficiency of the body to produce lactase.

My recommendation is to enjoy cheese but do so in moderation. It can be a wholesome and beneficial part of the diet, especially when added to healthful foods such as salads, eggs, casseroles, and vegetables.   

David Crocker is a nutritionist and master personal trainer. Questions? Email David at dwcrocker77@gmail.com or text to 864-494-6215.