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Hold the Cheese, or Not: Is Cheese All That Bad For You?

Hold the Cheese, or Not: Is Cheese All That Bad For You?

There is an old-school bar in the theater district of Manhattan called Sardi’s, a place not utterly unique in the midtown watering hole landscape, but well patronized nonetheless. A few weeks ago Sardi’s was in the news (albeit the back page) because their longstanding practice of setting out communal pots of cheese on the bar, for anyone with a hunger that beer or a cocktail cannot quench, was frowned upon by health inspectors. Seems that the welcoming pot of cheese with the communal knife sticking out of it was a source of potential contamination and was therefore deemed highly undesirable. In essence, communal cheese is bad.

This was certainly not the first time cheese (whether communal or intimately served) was maligned by the press or even the health department. While cheese is, and will remain, a thoroughly enjoyed staple for many Americans, it has also been deemed somewhat unhealthy due to its high cholesterol and artery-clogging talents and has long been considered a food to avoid for heart health due to its high content of saturated fatty acids. But now comes word that cheese, for all of the slanderous criticism, is about to be redeemed. According to Danish researchers (wait a minute? Aren’t the Danish some of the more prolific cheese producers in Europe?) discovered some interesting, and predictably encouraging, news about the impact of cheese on cholesterol levels. They compared the effect of cheese and butter on heart health parameters and found that cheese did not increase LDL levels (which is widely regarded as the “bad cholesterol”), and in fact, lowered them when compared with butter intake of equal fat content. According to a report in the Atlantic, Julie Hjerpsted of the Department of Human Nutrition at the University of Copenhagen said that cheese lowers LDL cholesterol when compared to an equal intake of butter, and cheese does not increase LDL cholesterol compared with one’s normal diet.

But before you grab the car keys and make room in the trunk for that wheel of triple cream, you might want to really consider the data presented here. While cheese may not raise LDL levels, like eating a stick of butter might, it should hardly be considered a heart-healthy option by any stretch of the imagination. And, while the participants in the study were eating cheese, HDL cholesterol (the “good cholesterol”) dropped somewhat compared to when they were eating butter, but not compared to when eating their normal diets. The takeaway here is that cheese, while not as bad as mainlining butter, is a sensible dairy and calcium delivery system, but only in moderation.

As many of you may be able to attest, whether you are cheese lovers or lactose-intolerant, eating cheese can be both pleasurable as it is unhealthy. Have you chosen to give up cheese for health reasons? If so, has it made an impact on your overall health? Do studies like the one mentioned above move you to alter your cheese consumption?

Read more: Blogs, Cholesterol, Diet & Nutrition, Eating for Health, Following Food, Food, Heart & Vascular Disease, , , , ,

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Eric Steinman

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, NY. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture, and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.

84 comments

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8:58PM PDT on May 17, 2013

Cheese is like other delights and many people practice moderation with their favourites be it coffee, chocolate or cheese along with many others. Cheese is always a favourite.

8:20AM PDT on Apr 15, 2013

ty

5:03PM PST on Dec 6, 2012

One of the ways Americans justify our consumption of cheese is by making comparisons such as these: "The French eat so much cheese and look how thin they are!" or as this article mentions " Aren’t the Danish some of the more prolific cheese producers in Europe?

The problem is, we have an erroneous perception of how Europeans consume cheese . In Europe, cheese is considered a delicacy or a treat, therefore cheese is often consumed as dessert, appetizer or accompaniment in a meal. Here in America, cheese is everywhere and IN almost everything. For example, we have bastardized what is normally fresh and light Italian cuisine and we've created our own interpretations slathered and drowned in cheese and diary. Europeans hold on to their traditions of home-made freshly cooked meals while Americans opt for fast food or ready made processed meals that contain high amounts of cheese and diary in order to compensate for their lack of flavor. Its not that we eat cheese like the Europeans, its how and how much we eat it.

Until you try to completely stop eating cheese (like we did) is only when you notice how its in practically everything and usually a lot.

11:00AM PDT on Oct 20, 2012

food for thought

10:21AM PDT on Oct 20, 2012

there's always "Laughing Cow"...

10:07AM PDT on Oct 19, 2012

I love cheese, no way I quit on it!

12:10PM PDT on Jun 10, 2012

thanks :)

5:07PM PST on Dec 13, 2011

Love cheese.

5:33AM PST on Dec 7, 2011

I stopped using milk 10 years ago but cheese was always my achiles heel until recently, I had an in-depth conversation with a diary farmer about the milking process. After hearing how the cows are firstly traumatised by having their day old calves taken away from them in order to keep them lactating for the next few years and then the poor things are literally milked to death, I have cut back on my cheese to the extent that I feel confident that I will soon be weened off it completely. The thought of being part of that painful process in the life of another mammal just doesnt sit well with me. It is no different from farming bears for their bile.

5:55PM PST on Dec 6, 2011

Ooohh, life without cheese wouldn't be the same.

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