Eat cheese for your health this holiday season

With the holidays around the corner, many of us are starting to count calories and save ourselves for the big festive meals ahead. This often times can mean starving ourselves all day so we are extra hungry at dinner — which is not a recommended strategy. A trick that I have is to have a small piece of cheese for lunch, either alongside some hummus, a couple of slices of apple, or even on top of some leftover grains mixed with greens. While some may believe that cheese is the enemy, it’s anything but. Especially during the holiday decadence, I keep cheese on my plate because it makes me feel satiated by appeasing my cravings for salty, umami flavors, and provides me essential building blocks that keep me healthy.

In fact, scientific studies reveal that when consumed in moderation, cheese is a delicious way to add healthy fats, minerals, vitamins, and probiotics to your diet. Cheese serves as an important source of high-quality protein, fortified vitamins A and D, and minerals such as calcium, magnesium, and potassium. Cheese is good for our bones and teeth, and overall heart health.

Here are some studies linking cheese with good health:

  • While cheese is relatively high in fat, a study that followed 462 healthy Iranian adults found that those who consumed more milk, yogurt, and cheese were less likely to be overweight or obese compared to those who did not eat as much. (It is important to remember that cheese, like any food product, should be consumed in moderation.)
  • A weight loss study found that obese adults who ate three daily servings of milk, yogurt, or cheese lost 70 percent more bodyweight and 64 percent more body fat than those who ate less than one serving per day.
  • Even children may benefit from eating dairy! After following a group of children from age 2 to 8, researchers discovered that those who ate more calcium-rich foods such as milk, cheese, and yogurt had a lower percentage of body fat.
  • You don’t have to stick to non-fat dairy either, as a study conducted in Sweden found. Their results showed that normal-weight women eating more than 1 daily serving of higher fat dairy foods (whole milk, sour cream, cheese, etc.) were less likely to gain 2 pounds or more per year compared to women who habitually ate less dairy. The women who did not eat dairy often were actually at higher risk of gaining 2 pounds per year!

The Case for Eating Dairy All Year Long

With high rates of obesity, it is estimated that 45 million people in the United States alone are dieting every year. Many of today’s popular diets cut out specific foods or food groups. Dairy is oftentimes one of the first foods eliminated when wanting to lose weight. Even though cheese and dairy are important sources of essential vitamins and minerals, dieters tend to demonize it because it can be high in fat and calories.

However, dairy fat is particularly unique because it is one of the few foods in our food supply that provides a dietary source of short-chain fatty acids, particularly butyrate. This short-chain fatty acid has an important role in the health of our gut. It has anti-inflammatory properties and provides energy to the cells that line our intestines. In addition to these properties, butyrate also influences our weight. It is shown to increase circulating levels of leptin, a hormone important in regulating our appetite and telling our brain we are full. Some obese individuals have chronically low levels of leptin, causing them to feel hungry more often. Researchers hypothesize that the amount of butyrate in dairy fat (approximately 4 percent) could have “clinically relevant effects on our body weight and metabolic heath.” (Kratz, Baars, and Guyenet 2013) - If you would like to read the studies we mention, take a look at our resources pages.

For the most part, I follow the Mediterranean Diet, and my consumption of animal products like eggs and meat is limited to a couple of portions a month. Keeping cheese as part of my diet gives me the energy to have an active lifestyle, and helps me stay on track to avoid weight gains during the holidays. If you want to learn more about the Mediterranean Diet read about it here, but better yet, why not get a membership today and as an special thank you gift, we will send you a copy of our 4-Week Med Diet Meal Plan book, bursting with recipes and menu ideas for smart eating and a grocery list to help you make smarter decisions. Join Today!

Happy holidays. Carlos Yescas, Oldways Cheese Coalition Program Director.