Is low fat cheese really healthier? Recent research suggests it may not be.
By
Melanie McGrice

16 Feb 2017 - 11:07 AM  UPDATED 16 Feb 2017 - 3:45 PM

Many Aussies feel guilty for eating full fat cheese associating it with images of blocked arteries and cellulite; and that’s not surprising as I, along with many other health professionals used to advise not to eat it due to it’s high saturated fat content. But, not any more! I have reintroduced full fat cheese back into my diet. And, my clients love when I explain to them that full fat cheese no longer needs to be on the banned foods list. Let’s look at the pros and cons of full fat cheese to help you decide whether you should bring it back into your diet::

Cheese increases your bad cholesterol – MYTH

Although it is well established that the saturated fat in butter and cream can increase ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol which clogs our arteries and increases the risk of heart attacks and stroke, less was known about other dairy foods, but they were all lumped into the same bucket. However, evidence has been mounting over the past few years to show that the saturated fat in dairy foods act differently to the saturated fat in processed treat foods. 

To add to this body of research, a well-conducted study from the University of Copenhagen looking at the impact of cheese on cholesterol levels has been recently published.  The researchers randomly allocated subjects to one of three groups: regular fat cheese, reduced fat cheese or carbohydrate.  Group 1 ate 80 grams of regular fat cheese daily, group 2 ate 80 grams of reduced fat cheese daily and group 3 ate two slices of bread with jam daily.  The subjects followed this diet for 12 weeks.  At the end of the study, the researchers found no differences in ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol between the three diets suggesting that low fat cheese isn’t any healthier for us than regular fat cheese.  Several studies have now shown that cheese has a neutral impact on heart health, and may even be protective!  

A little cheese adds flavour: try this bastourma and pomegranate salad, topped with shaved parmesan. 

Cheese is high in salt - TRUE

Although the saturated fat in cheese may not increase our risk of a heart attack or stroke, the high levels of sodium may. The sodium in cheese ranges from 600mg/100g in a regular fat cheddar to 2900mg/100g in a salty cheese like haloumi.  To put that in perspective the Heart Foundation recommends that we should aim for less than 2300mg sodium in a whole day!  So, although including a slice of cheddar in your sandwich may not be a problem, downing a wheel of brie with a glass of wine every night is likely to put your sodium levels over the limit. It’s also important to note that lower fat cheeses tend to be higher in sodium than full fat cheeses, so that might be one good reason to switch back to full fat cheese.

Cheese is a good source of calcium – TRUE

Whereas butter and cream contain very little calcium, cheese is a good source. The average 40 g serve of cheese contains approximately 250-350 mg, that’s comparable to the calcium in a serve of milk or yoghurt.  The average Aussie requires approximately 1000 mg per day, so a sprinkle of cheese through your salad can be a great way to increase your calcium intake and reduce your risk of osteoporosis.

Cheese causes weight gain – MYTH (within reason)

Before you get too excited about this and order a cheese platter for dinner, I’m talking about a moderate amount of cheese as part of a healthy diet.  In addition to reviewing the impact of cheese on cholesterol levels, the Danish study discussed above also found that those consuming 80 grams of regular fat cheese each day for 12 weeks didn’t result in any weight gain. As cheese is high in fat, protein and calcium, it tends to be relatively satiating. So, as long as you are watching your portion sizes and kilojoule intake, you should be able to enjoy a 40-gram serve of cheese or two each day without causing additional weight gain.

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