How Bad is Cheese For You, Really?
People are always talking about how shitty cheese is for your health. But how can that be true considering how great it makes its eater feel while it slides down the throat, creating mucus that will later facilitate the maniacally rapid division of cancer cells? Just kidding (kind of). But really! I have a rotisserie bone to pick with the cheese naysayers and I’ll explain to you why.
My dad was diagnosed with a cancer related to his gastrointestinal system almost four years ago and because he was young as fuck (52) and had no genetic predispositions that exposed his otherwise healthy body to ~danger~, the doctors, and therefore we (the family), chalked the ailment up to poor lifestyle/eating habits. Which, you know, makes sense given that this particular man essentially wrote the book on joie de vivre. I’ve never seen him turn down a glass of wine, much less say “No thanks” to a second slice of cake. And, of course, while everything is fine in moderation, that particular shoulder lane is one that those who abide by the tenets of joie de vivre forcibly reject.
I know this to be true because I am just like my dad. Which by osmosis made me feel like I was a mere 30 years from contracting the same kind of cancer. So! I did what he did and cut sugar, dairy and animal protein definitively. At first, it felt awesome and then it felt even more awesome and my mental clarity was through the roof and I was never tired at 3 p.m. anymore but then! Like three months ago, I started eating dairy again.
I just couldn’t say no to parmesan cubes anymore, you know? And those cubes are like a gateway drug. Before I knew it, I was loading up my coffee with whole milk. Smearing goat cheese all up on my crackers, dipping brie into fig jam late at night and effectively dating Greek yogurt. And guess what? I FEEL FINE. So fine that I might go for a jog after I’m done writing this post. So, really, how bad can cheese be for you? I understand that if you’re lactose intolerant, this question doesn’t really apply and in fact you might be flicking me off. And, look, I feel for you. Amelia can never eat ice cream and so in many ways, I feel like she is being robbed. But if you, like me, don’t react poorly to cheese, is it really so terrible?
According to Robin Berzin of Parsley, an alternative health and wellness service, yes. “Cheese gets a bad rap for the wrong reasons. The fact that it’s a high-fat, high-calorie, nutrient-dense food is actually a good thing,” she says. “But the downsides of cheese are real. First it contains casomorphins, which are compounds related to opioids that make it mildly addictive.”
Makes sense! See previous comment about dipping brie into fig jam.
“Second, it is often made from poor quality sources of milk — milk made from cows fed on grains instead of grass and treated with hormones and antibiotics. Then, food coloring and preservatives are added. And milk [is also often] pasteurized (meaning heat-shocked) to kill germs, but that process also kills the enzymes that make it easier to digest.”
Translation: Even if you think you can digest cheese, you likely can’t; most of it is pasteurized so the enzyme that would make it digestible is on vacation, Weekend at Bernie’s-style.
“Third, many people are allergic or sensitive to casein and whey, the two major proteins in all dairy, and so eating cheese causes digestive problems, acne, eczema, congestion, allergies, asthma and even headaches and mood swings.”
Come to think of it, my eczema has been acting up. Ditto that for mood swings! Which are now my middle name.
There’s a silver lining, though.
“Cheese made from the milk of grass-fed, hormone-free, free-range cows, goats and sheep, that’s raw (meaning unpasteurized) is a great source of healthy fats, fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, E and K, nutrients like calcium, enzymes that assist in its digestion and even antibodies that help with immunity. Its fat content makes it satiating — the fat signals the brain to release chemicals that tell you you’re full. And it’s a low-carb food, so it won’t spike insulin and cause weight gain.”
Which makes sense if we’re considering the French paradox, right? Those gazelles effectively live on cheese and seem to be doing just fine with their tiny-ass waists and elaborate life spans, which is perhaps a result of access to more whole foods and fewer processed carbs. So as long as you’re not pregnant or implicitly intolerant of dairy products, feel free to slouch towards the unpasteurized cheese wheel at Whole Foods.
And to debunk one more myth — this one about wine aiding cheese digestion, sad clown frown notwithstanding — “Wine slows down metabolism. It just tastes good with cheese because the tannins in wine mix with the fat and create new flavors.”
Kill me now.
Photographed by Krista Anna Lewis. Creative Direction by Emily Zirimis.