For many of us, cheese is more than just an occasional addition to a well-balanced meal. Sometimes, it is the meal — or at least a tasty treat on the regular. If you’ve got a cheese habit, which can sometimes intensify this time of the year, you’ll be happy to know there is plenty of nutritional justification for nibbling on your favorite cheeses during the holiday season.
Why cheese is A-OK
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the average adult in the United States should consume three servings (approximately three cups) of dairy each day. While you can down three servings of milk every day and call it good, there are a few reasons eating cheese instead works in your favor as well. One of these reasons is that cheese is delish, but here are some nutrition facts that can bolster your habit.
Rachel Fine, a registered dietitian and owner of To the Pointe Nutrition, says cheese, like all dairy foods, is chock-full of calcium. “Calcium is essential to both building and maintaining adequate bone mass,” she tells SheKnows.
Not only that, but a 2017 study in the European Journal of Nutrition found that the calcium in cheese means less of the saturated fatty acids in the food are absorbed into your body.
One benefit cheese has over milk is that it’s a lower-carb way to fit dairy into your diet, Summer Yule, a registered dietitian, tells SheKnows. Cheese doesn’t usually have any carbs, so it’s a great way to get the other important nutrients if you’re trying to keep your carb intake low.
One ounce of cheddar cheese has a solid 7 grams of protein, which is a lot of bang for your nutritional buck. Protein helps provide energy for your body and can help build and repair cells and body tissue.
Lauren Manaker, a licensed dietitian, tell SheKnows vitamin K2 helps support bone health. “Cheese made from grass-fed cows is a source of vitamin K2, and harder cheese like Parmesan is often higher in this vitamin,” she says.
Is there such a thing as too much cheese?
OK, so cheese is definitely a go as a tasty holiday snack. It has plenty of vital nutrients, and it’s just so darn good, and in some cases, may be a better choice than a regular cup of milk. But we do have to ask — can too much cheese be a bad thing?
*Sad trombone* Yule says yes, you totally can eat too much cheese. “It is possible to consume excessive amounts of anything, including cheese,” she says. “Even though cheese offers many nutritional benefits, it is important to moderate intake as part of a balanced diet.”
Fine expounds upon this and explains you should generally stick to the three servings of dairy recommended by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (the gurus behind ChooseMyPlate.gov). For adult men and women, three cups (or servings) of dairy per day is the limit you should keep in mind as you fill up your plate at the holiday buffet.
What counts as a serving, you may ask? For cheese, 1-1/2 ounces of natural or hard cheese (or 2 ounces of processed cheese) counts as one serving. That’s not a lot — about two standard slices for one serving. Hard cheese includes cheddar, mozzarella, Swiss and Parmesan, while processed cheese includes that age-old favorite known as American cheese.
Fine notes that one of the reasons dairy isn’t a free-for-all diet tactic (and shouldn’t be) is that some varieties tend to have high amounts of saturated fats. Sadly, hard cheeses fall into this category. Also, she explains that fat-free cheeses tend to be highly processed and may have high amounts of sodium. Neither of these are terribly good for you, so yes, while you can eat cheese, she suggests not overdoing it all the time and to read the labels before you indulge so you can have a better idea of its nutritional breakdown.
Also, cheese doesn’t have any fiber to speak of, which is a requirement of a healthy diet (and if you’re trying to have better bowels, cheese shouldn’t be your first choice).
The bottom line … of cheese
As it all shakes out, eating small amounts of cheese can be healthy for you. It contains vital nutrients that help keep your bones in tip-top shape and doesn’t have a ton of carbs. It’s so tasty too.
So feel free to enjoy cheese as you taste your way through this holiday season. Just don’t eat a whole pound of cheddar every day. As with all delicious things in life, enjoy — but enjoy in moderation.
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