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?