However, cheese also offers some nutritional benefits as it contains calcium and vitamins. By choosing low-fat cheeses and limiting themselves to moderate quantities, people can continue to eat cheese as part of a healthful diet.
In this article, we look at how eating cheese can affect a person’s cholesterol levels and which kinds of cheese are best.
How much cholesterol is in cheese?
Like other dairy products and many animal foods, most types of cheese are high in cholesterol and saturated fat. The cholesterol and saturated fat content vary depending on the kind of cheese.
The following table provides the total amounts of saturated fat and cholesterol that specific cheeses contain, according to the USDA Food Composition Database:
As the table shows, low-fat and reduced-fat cheeses have a much lower fat content.
Anyone who is worried about their cholesterol level should check nutrition labels before buying foods as the nutritional content will vary between products and brands.
It is important to be mindful of portion size, since eating more than the serving size on the nutrition label will increase the intake of each nutrient, including saturated fat.
According to the National Cancer Institute, cheese is the top food source in the American diet for raising a person’s cholesterol.
Cheese is high in cholesterol, but, according to the USDA Dietary Guidelines from 2015, there is no clear link between the cholesterol-rich foods that a person eats and their blood cholesterol levels. Instead, it is the saturated fat in foods such as cheese that is responsible for raising these levels.
People who consume many foods that are high in saturated fat and have other lifestyle risk factors, such as smoking or high blood pressure, are more likely to have high cholesterol. This may be because these risk factors cause the liver to produce more cholesterol than usual.
A study from 2015 found no relationship between the consumption of dairy products and an increased risk of heart disease after the age of 55. In fact, the authors suggested that people who consumed high-fat dairy products were less likely to die of a stroke. While this study did not directly consider cholesterol, it indicates that cheese consumption alone may not be harmful to heart health.
A small-scale 2015 study compared people who ate a low-fat cheese or a Gouda-like cheese with a control group who limited their cheese intake for 8 weeks. The researchers found no difference between the groups’ overall blood cholesterol levels. They also found that people who ate the high-fat Gouda who also had metabolic syndrome had lower cholesterol at the end of the study. This suggests that full-fat cheese might be beneficial for some people.
A 2017 study found a complicated relationship between dairy consumption and health risk factors, suggesting that other foods might change the way cheese affects health.
Cholesterol is a waxy substance that is present in many foods, particularly those that are high in saturated fat, such as dairy products and meat. The body also manufactures cholesterol in the liver.
The body needs some cholesterol to function, but, if too much cholesterol accumulates in the blood, it can clog arteries, raise blood pressure, and put people at higher risk of heart attack and other heart conditions.
There are two types of cholesterol in the blood. High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol particles are larger and can help to remove low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. Doctors sometimes call them good cholesterol and bad cholesterol respectively. A person who has high LDL cholesterol and low HDL cholesterol will have a higher risk of heart disease.
In the past, doctors advised people to avoid eating foods containing too much cholesterol, including cheese. Now that advice is changing. Recent research suggests that dietary cholesterol has either a modest effect on blood cholesterol levels or no effect at all. Other research, however, indicates that the opposite is true and that eating many high-cholesterol foods can affect blood cholesterol levels.
In 2015 the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee changed their recommendation for cholesterol intake, stating, “cholesterol is not considered a nutrient of concern for overconsumption.” So rather than focusing on limiting cholesterol intake to a specific number, it is important to cultivate a healthful lifestyle and eat a wide range of foods.
Many factors can affect a person’s blood cholesterol levels. These include being overweight, eating foods high in trans fats, a family history of heart disease and high cholesterol, smoking, and a sedentary lifestyle. This means that it is best to focus on cultivating a healthful lifestyle rather than just reducing cholesterol intake.
People with high cholesterol, coronary artery disease, and other heart health risk factors should discuss their diet and lifestyle with a doctor, and possibly with a dietitian who specializes in heart health.
A wide range of individual factors may impact on blood cholesterol levels and heart health. For example, a person who eats a healthful diet overall may experience fewer health effects from eating cheese than someone who eats other foods that are high in saturated or trans fats. It is important to talk openly about diet and to determine which dietary restrictions feel manageable.
Cheese can offer health benefits due to the calcium and vitamins it contains, but it also presents some risks. As with most other foods, it is best to consume it in moderation. It is possible for cheese to be part of a heart-friendly diet, even for people with heart disease, if the diet consists primarily of low-calorie foods, including a variety of fruits and vegetables.
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