Anyone who has ever enjoyed creamy mac-and-cheese, a gooey grilled cheese sandwich or a perfectly cooked quesadilla knows that in certain recipes, there's simply no substitute for cheese. And with thousands of variations—from the classic American to crumbly gouda to vegan options—it's one of the world's most versatile foods.
Unfortunately, cheese has a few strikes against it, such as high saturated fat content, high calories and, for some, the potential for digestive difficulties. Despite those drawbacks, each American eats an average of 23 pounds of cheese each year.
The good news? The benefits go beyond tantalizing taste. When enjoyed in moderation, cheese can actually improve your physical and mental health in a myriad of mouth-watering ways.
Benefit #1: Gives bones a boost
Osteoporosis doesn't discriminate: Approximately 10 million Americans (80 percent of whom are women) experience bone loss or weakness that increases the chances of fractures. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, calcium and Vitamin D are the two most important nutrients for preserving bone health—and cheese has those in spades.
Benefit #2: Fast-tracks weight loss
It may seem counterintuitive, but when you choose the right types—and incorporate them as an occasional treat rather than an all-day staple—cheese can actually help expedite weight loss efforts. The magic ingredient appears to be butyrate, a fatty acid that helps speed up metabolism and reduces the risk of obesity.
In a clinical trial published in the Journal of Nutrition, overweight and obese women who combined regular exercise with a low-calorie, high-dairy diet that included cheese lost more fat over a 16-week period than women who ate less dairy.
Benefit #3: Dials down the risk of diabetes
More than 29 million Americans are living with Type 2 diabetes. Although there's no known cure, some preventative measures can reduce the chances of developing the disease—and a dairy-rich diet could be among them. According to a Swedish study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, dairy foods were shown to reduce the risk of diabetes, particularly among cheese-eating females. Likewise, a Brazilian study found that cheese's high levels of protein and saturated fat help to metabolize glucose and prevent blood sugar spikes.
Benefit #4: Improves heart health
If cheese holds a special place in your heart, you'll be happy to hear that you may be at a lower risk of cardiovascular disease. In a 12-year study published in the Journal of Nutrition, women who consumed high amounts of cheese had a 25 percent lower risk of developing heart troubles. There's also been some research into the "French paradox," which suggests there may be a link between the French population's high cheese consumption and low rate of heart conditions. In a Danish study, the authors found that dairy eaters produced lower levels of TMAO, a molecule that is thought to trigger cardiovascular disease, and higher levels of butyrate acid, which is also an anti-inflammatory.
Benefit #5: Keeps cavities in check
Say cheese! As if it didn't already give you enough to smile about, this multi-tasking cuisine could also protect your pearly whites. Researchers from the Academy of General Dentistry found the calcium-rich food may help prevent cavities. Compared to milk and yogurt eaters, the cheese-eating group showed an increase in pH levels in the mouth, which may help fight cavities. Cheese also contains compounds that bond to the surface of the tooth, forming a protective layer and sealing out acids. Plus, an increase of alkaline saliva washes away debris and slows down plaque formation. "Not only are dairy products a healthy alternative to carb- or sugar-filled snacks, they also may be considered as a preventive measure against cavities," Seung-Hee Rhee, DDS, FAGD, a spokesperson for the Academy of General Dentistry, said.
In addition to adding flavor, texture and color to any recipe, regular servings of cheese may provide head-to-toe health benefits. To maximize the perks without maxing out your fat consumption, choose cheeses that are low in fat and limit portion sizes.
What are your favorite ways to incorporate cheese into your diet?
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