It turns out that gouda could be quite good for you.
Research published in the December 2017 edition of the European Journal of Nutrition shows a connection between moderate consumption of cheese and a decreased risk of heart disease and stroke, although cheese doesn’t solely cause the decreased risk. To come to that conclusion, researchers reviewed 15 existing studies about heart disease.
The research in the European Journal of Nutrition is part of a string of growing scientific evidence that, contrary to some long-held beliefs, cheese offers health benefits.
OK, so cheese is a whiz when it comes to nutritional pluses like protein, calcium, probiotics, vitamin B2 and vitamin B12. But which kind of cheese should you consume?
Keith-Thomas Ayoob, a nutritionist and dietitian who’s an associate clinical professor emeritus at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, says you can eat any type of cheese you prefer — whether it’s the cow, goat or sheep variety — as long as you don’t overdo it. “There is currently no evidence that one is better than the other,” he says.
Ayoob advises limiting cheese consumption to an average of about 1 ounce per day and keeping an eye on the sodium content, as some cheeses contain more blood-pressure-elevating sodium than others.
Lower-sodium cheeses include cottage cheese, Monterey Jack, mozzarella, ricotta, Parmesan and Swiss, according to Taylor Engelke, a registered clinical dietitian at Nutrimental Healthcare in Neenah, Wisconsin.
So, why are these and other cheeses in vogue now following years of disparagement as being detrimental to your health? Simply put, a number of studies show people who eat cheese are healthier than those who don’t, Ayoob says.
“The research is still emerging as to why,” he says.
However, researchers do have a theory, according to Ayoob. It’s thought that the fat in cheese is bound to a protein-fat matrix, making it behave differently in our bodies than butter does, even though butter comes from the same place and has roughly the same makeup of fatty acid. The protein-fat matrix may be the “kicker” as to why cheese beats butter in nutritional value, Ayoob says.
In an interview with Time.com, Dr. Allan Stewart, director of aortic surgery at Mount Sinai Medical Center’s Icahn School of Medicine, further explains that people who eat cheese every day might be healthier overall, or might have more disposable income and a higher socioeconomic status. Also, Stewart says, the positive attributes of cheese could outweigh the negative effects of the high levels of saturated fat.
Stewart tells Time.com that the study published in the European Journal of Nutrition didn’t examine different types of cheese, so more research is needed to figure out whether certain cheeses offer more health benefits or present more risks than others.
Engelke says cheese has, over the years, gotten a bad rap because a study published in the 1950s deemed saturated fats — a key component of cheese — as unhealthy. However, Engelke says the study was flawed because it cherry-picked data to support the lead researcher’s theory that saturated fats led to heart disease.
One thing the study overlooked is that cheese contains a variety of fats, not just saturated fats, and some of those fats boost immunity and digestive health, according to Engelke.
One noteworthy point here: Eating foods that contain saturated fats raises the level of cholesterol in your blood, according to the American Heart Association. That then can bump up your risk of heart disease and stroke. Cheese is the top source of saturated fat for Americans.
Want to avoid loads of saturated fat? Lower-fat cheese options include feta, ricotta and part-skim mozzarella.
Despite the warnings about saturated fat, researchers in recent years have generally concluded that cheese possesses more positives than negatives.
“Basically, it doesn’t seem to matter what type of cheese it is; the key is how much. Too much of anything is a bad thing, especially since many Americans get too much sodium and have blood pressure concerns,” Engelke says.