Our Family recently had a wonderful, healthy dinner together (well almost healthy with the exception of just a few items), but one thing I did notice was that cheese was an integral part of almost every component of this dinner: cheese and crackers to munch on upon arrival, mozzarella and tomato as an appetizer, cauliflower casserole with cheddar cheese, and grilled burgers with the option of melted cheese on top. We actually did not have cheese cake for dessert, but that really would have made for quite the "cheesy" evening. (wow, a cheesy joke too!)
So, do you know which "cheesy" parts of this meal were healthy or not? Let's take a look at the anatomy of cheese and figure out exactly where cheese can fit into our healthy eating plan.
What kind of fat is in cheese?
The kind of fat in a particular cheese will be completely dependent on the source of that cheese. Just as the quality of our milk is only as good as the cow it came from, the same rule goes for cheese.
As many of you have read in the "Dairy" chapter of the Diet Solution Program, cows were really meant to be fed grass and be raised in free roaming pastures (so they can dance and sing and be merry). Unfortunately, that is not the case with many milk manufacturers and cow farmers. It is much cheaper and much easier for them to feed their cows grains (a very unnatural source of food for cows) and raise them in extremely tight quarters (again, not how they would really live in nature and no dancing possible) than give them the nourishment and enough land to grow the way nature intended. As a result many cows become extremely ill and require antibiotics in order to stay alive. These antibiotics that are now in the blood stream of the cows end up in our milk, cheese and yogurt (not to mention our beef) and are extremely detrimental to our health.
To make matters even worse, many cows are given growth hormones to speed up their growth and development (farmers are thinking they gotta make the most money from each cow right?). Not only do the growth hormones also make for some pretty sick cows but the actual hormones also get into our foods and cause a lot of health problems in our own bodies (and the bodies of our little children).
Oh boy Isabel. You are so depressing sometimes!
Don't worry. There's good news. Fortunately for us Organic Milk and Cheese has now become more readily available than ever before. This means we are able to purchase our favorite foods without the added antibiotics and hormones that are in conventional dairy products by choosing organic products.
Hold on, before another organic rant, let me get back to the question at hand: What kind of fat is in cheese?
Conventional cheese from poorly raised cows is very high in Omega 6 Fats. Again, remembering back to the "Fats" chapter in The Diet Solution, we want to reduce the amount of Omega 6's in our diets and consistently keep increasing the amount of Omega 3's in our diets. Cheese that is made from the milk of grass fed, free roaming cows (without antibiotics and growth hormones of course) is much higher in Omega 3 fats and conjugated linoleic acid (conjugated what?). CLA, as it is often referred to, is an extremely healthy fat that has been found to be a potent cancer fighter. The most abundant source of natural CLA is the meat and dairy products of grassfed animals. Research conducted since 1999 shows that grazing animals have from 3-5 times more CLA than animals fattened on grain in a feedlot. Simply switching from grainfed to grassfed products can greatly increase your intake of CLA.
So... Is the fat in cheese of the good kind or bad kind? As you can see, that greatly depends on the source of your cheese. Conventional, non-organic cheese can be quite high in bad fat and laden with antibiotics and hormones and really should NOT be included in our meal plans where as grass fed, organic cheese can be a wonderful and tasty addition to your healthy meal plans.
Also remember that raw dairy is always a better option than pasteurized dairy. Raw milk may be extremely difficult to find in many states but raw cheese can be found at most grocery stores and health food stores all over the world. I order our raw cheese online from http://grasslandmeats.com or buy it at the small organic health food store near our home. If you have never had raw cheese before, you are going to be absolutely amazed by the delicious taste. Raw cheese is so much more flavorful than any conventional cheese and makes all the difference in the world especially when used in recipes.
Certain cheeses should be avoided at all costs. Never and I mean never eat cheese out of a can (Does that even sound normal?) Also, American Cheese out of plastic wrapping is another big No-No. It's not even a "real" type of cheese and the fact that it's wrapped in plastic is quite scary to say the least.
Is cheese a fat or a protein?
Where as many nutrition plans count cheese as a protein, I count it as a fat option in The Diet Solution Program. That is because I do not feel that the protein content in cheese is high enough to qualify it as a full protein. With that being said, cheese does have a significant amount of protein, but for blood sugar balancing purposes, it just may not be enough for some. This is where the "listen to your body" tactic really comes into play. Some people can have 2 ounces of cheddar cheese and a small apple as a snack and feel great where as others may have this same snack and feel lethargic and sleepy just 30 minutes later. Let your body tell you if this would be a healthy option for you.
Let's remember that portion control comes into effect with just about everything and 1-2 ounces of cheese (1 oz is about the size of a domino) can go a really long way in any meal (No, not the whole block Ted. That's way too much at once.)
Here are some great ways to add cheese into your healthy weight loss meal plans:
1. Sprinkle some shredded cheese on top of your morning vegetable omelet.
2. Combine cheese with an apple or pear and some raw nuts as a great 3pm pick me up.
3. Melt cheese over vegetables to get your whole family to eat their "veggies"
Remember, it only takes a small amount of cheese to add that extra flavor to most meals and recipes. There is no need to drown your salad, veggies, omelet, or meat in gobs and gobs of cheese (my apologies to chicken parmigiana and cheese casserole). There is a healthy way to have your cheese and eat it too.