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The Case for Eating Cheese

For most of us cheese is an indulgence: a mountain of smothered nachos or a huge, gooey pizza. But cheese can also be an ultimate edible—a salty, serve-it-hot-or-cold accompaniment that enhances the flavor of almost anything, from asparagus and arugula to ziti and zucchini. It’s a vital ingredient in casseroles, vegetable dishes, appetizers, and even desserts.

But alas, cheese can also be high in calories and saturated fat, which is why many health- and weight-conscious people have completely eradicated it from their diets. Yet cheese has a lot to offer, say nutrition experts. And if you avoid all cheeses, you may be overlooking a multitude of benefits.

Packed with protein, calcium and vitamins, cheese can help keep blood-sugar levels stable. It also satisfies the palate, creates a feeling of satiety, and has even been shown to help prevent tooth decay. Chosen carefully and consumed in moderation, cheese can be a great addition to a healthy diet. Of course, those with sensitivities to dairy products have clear reasons to avoid it.

The Benefits of Cheese

Generally speaking, an ounce of cheese contains about 100 calories and 7 to 10 grams of fat. So, you might choose to ditch that afternoon bag of pretzels (220 calories) and replace it with 1 ounce of cheddar cheese (110 calories). Rather than eating a hard roll (150 calories) with your green salad, sprinkle on a handful of feta (100 calories per ounce) instead. Not only will you feel satisfied longer, but you’ll also be trading empty calories for nutrient-dense ones.

If you are weight conscious or looking to reduce your intake of saturated fat, it may be helpful to think of cheese as a condiment or an accompaniment to other foods rather than as a main dish.

For example, instead of making a bland cheese (like Colby or provolone) the thick centerpiece of your sandwich, try combining tomato and cucumber with a thin layer of Asiago or herbed goat cheese. Rather than tossing a heaping handful of cheese onto your pizza or chef salad, consider crumbling on just a bit of feta or Stilton. Go for quality and synergy, not quantity. Strive to educate your palate to enjoy a broader array of cheeses and to appreciate their various qualities: the crunchy toffee-like bits in aged Gruyère; the luxurious aroma of herbed sheep feta packed in olive oil.

You can also try pairing different types of cheese with different sorts of fruits and vegetables, seeking out interesting flavor, color and texture combinations that delight your senses and please your tummy. Options abound for enjoying cheese in new and different ways; here are just a few to get you going:

    • Cottage cheese with sliced berries in the morning

    • Feta, chèvre, Manchego or Gorgonzola on organic field greens

    • Fresh-shredded aged Parmesan, Gruyère or Asiago on vegetable soups

    • Fresh mozzarella with sliced tomato, basil, olive oil and balsamic vinegar

    • Chèvre on celery sticks or cucumber rounds

    • Aged Cheddar on Granny Smith apples

When eaten in moderation, cheese can be a healthy, satisfying source of blood-sugar-stabilizing protein and fat. And when your blood sugar is steady, you’re less likely to overeat.