Unexpected Health Benefits of a Good Cheese
Despite decades of the medical establishment recommending a reduced or nonexistent intake of unpasteurized and high-fat dairy, recent research has found that the hearty traditional cheeses commonly eaten in France and other parts of Europe have multiple health benefits.
Here are some excellent reasons to enjoy your favourite cheese with no guilt whatsoever:
Nutrition without allergens
Good quality cheese is essentially fermented milk, made from very simple ingredients: milk, salt, bacterial culture and rennet (an enzyme). Because the milk is fermented, lactose is almost nonexistent in cheese. This is the element that most commonly causes intolerance to dairy. In the cheesemaking process, bacteria converts lactose into lactic acid. If you want to avoid even trace amounts of lactose, stick with longer-aged cheeses since these have the lowest levels.
Cheese is also highly satisfying and satiating due to the balance of protein and fat, and adds delicious flavour to dishes. Adding fat such as cheese to vegetables actually allows us to absorb more nutrients from the vegetables, because many nutrients are fat-soluble rather than water-soluble.
Most “normal” cheese, i.e. pasteurized, homogenized non-organic cheese from grain-fed cows, contains betacellulin, a growth factor associated with cancer. Conversely, raw grass-fed dairy contains high levels of conjugated lineolic acid (CLA), which has been shown to have anticancer properties. Grass-fed cheese contains about five times the CLA of grain-fed cheese. This is a good reason to invest in high-quality cheese originating from healthy animals.
Another reason to seek out top-notch cheeses is the increased nutrient content. When cows (or sheep or goats) are allowed to roam free in the sun, eating green grass, their milk contains incredible levels of the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K2. These nutrients are understood to support strong immunity, well-formed teeth and bones, and robust eye health.
Vitamin K2 is commonly lacking in Western diets, which is unfortunate as it serves the special purpose of ensuring that calcium ends up in bones and teeth rather than in soft tissues. Consuming vitamin K2 from grass-fed cheese and dairy can help prevent the calcification of arteries and the formation of gall and kidney stones.
High-quality cheese also exhibits a much healthier balance of omega-6s vs. omega-3s. The ratio in grass-fed cheese is the ideal 2:1, while grain-fed cheese leans heavily toward the more pro-inflammatory omega-6s, with a ratio as poor as 25:1.
A 2010 study published in Immunology & Medical Microbiology demonstrated that daily consumption of probiotic cheese helps to tackle age-related changes in the immune system. The friendly bacteria naturally contained in cheese can enhance the human microbiome and improve a healthy immune response.
Microorganisms on cheese not only preserve the final product and make it aromatic and delicious, but they are also very important for food safety. Many of the bacteria on the rind prevent the spread of potentially dangerous pathogens by excreting inhibitors against other unfriendly bacteria, such as listeria.
Finally, cheese bacteria may help lower heart disease risk. A French study found that those who consume cheese have higher fecal levels of butyrate, a byproduct produced by good gut bacteria. These people also had healthier cholesterol profiles, indicating that the probiotics in cheese help balance the microbiome for improved cardiovascular health.
Beware of fake cheese
Take note that all of these benefits are solely associated with high-quality cheese. Spray cheese, plastic-wrapped cheese, or any other type of “cheese product” will undoubtedly contain any number of flavourings, colourings and thickening agents, and won’t bestow any of the wonderful nutritional advantages of a real cheese.
May this encourage you to choose quality and choose health!