If it were up to me, all dinners would start with cheese. Give me a plate filled with cheese, crackers, veggies and hummus (and a glass of wine), and I’m happy. Yet many people believe that cheese is unhealthy and should be avoided. Guess what: not only is cheese delicious, but it can provide health benefits. Here’s why you should consider eating cheese:

It contains beneficial fats

Yes, cheese contains saturated fat. But more and more research is showing that the type of saturated fat found in dairy foods (cheese included) might not be as bad for us as originally believed. Dairy fat contains a compound called trans-palmitoleic acid, a fatty acid found in milk, cheese, yogurt and butter. Our bodies don’t produce it, so you have to get it from your diet.

It may lower your risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease

Some studies have shown that increased levels of trans-palmitoleic acid in our bloodstream were associated with healthier blood cholesterol levels, inflammatory markers, and insulin levels. These studies also linked levels of trans-palmitoleic acid to a lower risk of developing diabetes and a lower risk of cardiovascular disease.

It won’t raise your blood cholesterol

Cheese is also a high cholesterol food. The belief used to be that foods high in cholesterol negatively impacted our blood cholesterol levels, however more recent evidence shows no relationship between consuming foods high in cholesterol and blood levels of cholesterol when looking at a typical American diet. In the context of a generally healthy diet, filled with vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, foods higher in cholesterol – like cheese – are unlikely to impact blood cholesterol levels.

It will help you stay full for longer

Cheese is a source of protein and fat, which makes it a very satiating food. Small amounts go a long way towards filling you up and keeping you full for longer. Cheese is a good source of several vitamins and minerals including calcium, vitamins A and B12, riboflavin and phosphorus. A one-ounce serving of cheese contains 25-30% of your daily calcium needs.

What Cheese to Choose

I recommend choosing full-fat cheeses, not only will you get the potential benefits that dairy fat has to offer, but you’ll feel more full and satisfied afterwards. If you’re lactose intolerant, you may be able to tolerate small amounts of hard, aged cheeses, since they’ll have less lactose. Fresh, soft cheeses like goat, feta, or mozzarella have higher amounts of lactose.

The bottom line: choose the cheeses that you most enjoy. Stronger tasting cheeses like good-quality fresh parmesan or blue cheese allow you to use a smaller portion size while still getting a lot of flavor. Soft cheeses make great additions to salads and sandwiches, and are slightly lower in calories and fat. Cottage cheese is a great option for snacks or as part of a meal, since it is a great source of protein with 12 to 15 grams per half-cup.

Now all that’s left is to decide how to eat your cheese: grilled cheese sandwich or mac and cheese anyone?

Share your favorite cheeses with us in the comments section!
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