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Say Cheese!

Cheddar, gouda, camembert, brie, blue, ricotta, cottage, mozzarella, Swiss, feta, parmesan. There are between 500-1000 recognised types of cheese around the world and it is one of the most consumed food products in the world with the average Australian consuming around 12kg of it a year. The mere word invokes a smiling response from people posing for a picture. The avid weight lifter or bodybuilder swears by cottage cheese as a great high protein snack, but is there merit into other types of cheese besides taste? And what is it about cheese in general that makes it a great all round food?

Cheese & Benefits

Cheese is a broad term to define any milk based product containing higher protein and fat fractions and which usually consists of curds (a coagulation of casein; a specific protein in milk). A wide proportion of cheeses contain a significant total fat and saturated fat content which has originally given cheese a bad name, especially for those looking to lose weight and avoid chronic disease progression. However, evidence in support of this is inconclusive. In fact, studies have shown that cheese and consumption of other dairy products may actually help promote better health in terms of cardiovascular health, weight control, dental care, glycaemic control and even sleep.

Cheese & Sleep

The consumption of cheese before sleep has traditionally been associated with nightmares, however an unpublished study by the British Cheese Board in 2005 investigating this supposed phenomenon found that consumption of cheese before bed actually promoted better sleep. Whether or not these results can be trusted considering the study was funded by and conducted by the Cheese Board themselves is up for debate.

However, there is some science backing the theory, as cheese contains tryptophan, an amino acid which is capable for having calming and sleep inducing effects, however, results are still inconclusive, with the best results being produced in those with ‘room for improvement’1. Considering however, that a large number of trainers consume some form of stimulated supplement or substance (coffee) throughout the day, there might be a substantial amount of people with ‘room for improvements’.

Whether or not the amounts of tryptophan in cheese are enough to induce a better sleep is up for further research. If this were possible however; having some cheese before bed (a common practice for trainers) is a good idea not only in providing a source of slow digesting protein (casein), but also to aid in a deeper, better sleep, both important factors to promote a stronger anabolic hormonal profile. On top of that, a good night’s sleep can help improve attention and focus throughout the day and during your workouts.

Cheese & Weight Loss

There has long been scientific interest on the effect of dairy on weight and obesity as well as chronic diseases associated with obesity. In terms of weight loss, there is no current consensus as yet. Larger scale, long term, cohort studies have shown very little effect of increased dairy consumption of weight loss in both adults and children. In fact, one study even found that children consuming 3 glasses or more of milk per day experienced gains in weight over time2. Whether this was related specifically to dairy consumption or simply increased caloric consumption is up for debate.

With that in mind, several recent randomised controlled trials have also been equivocal in their results and no final conclusions can be made. There has been evidence of increased fat oxidation3, increased abdominal fat loss4 and insulin response5, all factors which can help with weight and fat loss as well as progression towards chronic diseases. Perhaps, longer term randomised controlled trials are necessary to elucidate the connection between dairy consumption and weight loss/maintenance?

This idea was indeed supported by Eagen et al (2006)6 who found that long term higher consumptions of dairy and calcium can lead to long term weight loss with less chance of weight regain. While, most of these studies examined dairy as a whole and/or calcium as a isolated nutrient, it is important to know that cheese provides a concentrated form of calcium. For example, a 250mL cup of milk provides similar amounts of calcium as 30g of many hard cheeses. It is also interesting to note that a 120g serve of cottage cheese provides less than half the amount of calcium when compared to a standard 25g serve of extra light (50% fat reduced) cheddar cheese with only 1.4g less fat.

Cheese & Cardiovascular Disease

Cheese and other high fat dairy products are commonly associated with weight gain, obesity and potential negative effects on cholesterol levels. The saturated fat levels in cheese are also often blamed when associating cheese and high fat dairy product intake with development of cardiovascular disease. Anecdotal evidence has suggested otherwise when comparing cardiovascular disease rates of two of the highest cheese consuming countries; Greece and France. Using these examples, one can promote the necessity to look at the diet as a whole rather than as its constituent nutrients for long term good health.

Is it also interesting to note that studies examining cheese and cholesterol levels have shown a reduction in LDL levels compared with butter and even milk7. Interestingly, a recent study by Tholstrup et al (2011)8 examining cheese and butter intake at similar fat levels were able to show that those consuming cheese had reduced levels of LDL cholesterol than when consuming similar levels of fat in butter and even when compared with their habitual diet.

While, the exact mechanism by which this phenomenon occurred is still up for research, early hypotheses point to the high level of calcium, which may potentiate faecal fat excretion. High intakes of dairy itself has been associated with increased lipolysis, increased fat oxidation and satiation – all of which can help with obesity and subsequently progression towards cardiovascular issues.

Cheese & Other Benefits

There have also been associations with increased cheese consumption with reductions in tooth decay. It has been suggested that the high amounts of calcium, phosphate and casein phosphopeptides have the ability to reduce tooth decay9. Furthermore, increased saliva production from chewing cheese helps to promote a relative alkalinic environment to help buffer acids produced from plaque and also to wash away residue.

Furthermore, for people who are lactose intolerant, cheese is one of the best solutions in obtaining enough calcium in your diet, whilst providing you with plenty of protein and without the lactose. In fact, a 25-30g serve of cheese has 600 times less lactose than a standard serve of milk (250mL) whilst still providing at least 70% of the calcium. Both softer and harder cheeses have less lactose than milk, however harder cheeses contain considerably more calcium.

Get Some Cheese in Ya!

Cheese is an excellent workout which can help maintain bone strength, potentially help with healthy weight maintenance, body composition and dental caries. On top of that, it is a great source of protein, an important nutrient when it comes to resistance exercise. While cottage cheese has always been the staple for bodybuilders and weight trainers for its low fat, high protein and versatile nature, the flavour profile can be something to be desired. Using other cheeses in moderation is definitely a viable option to get your protein and calcium. So why not go out and stock up on some different cheeses? You’ll not only have a great body, but a winning smile. Pretty Gouda don’t you think?

Nutritional Information

Low Fat Cottage Cheese

50% Reduced Fat Cheddar Cheese

Full Fat Cheddar Cheese

Per Serve (120g)

Per 100g

Per Serve (25g)

Per 100g

Per Serve (25g)

Per 100g

Energy

108 kcal

450 kJ

90 kcal

375 kJ

69 kcal

288 kJ

275 kcal

1150 kJ

100 kcal

419 kJ

400 kcal

1674 kJ

Protein

16.4 g

13.7 g

8.6 g

34.4 g

6.5 g

25.9 g

Fat – Total

2.4 g

2 g

3.8 g

15.3 g

8.3 g

33.3 g

– Saturated

1.4 g

1.2 g

2.5 g

9.8 g

5.4 g

21.6 g

Carbohydrates

4.3 g

3.6 g

0.1 g

0.5 g

0 g

0 g

– Sugars

0.4 g

0.3 g

0.1 g

0.5 g

0 g

0 g

Calcium

82.8 mg

69 mg

249 mg

995 mg

179.3 mg

717 mg

Sodium

487 mg

406 mg

143 mg

570 mg

166 mg

662 mg

_

1. Silber BY, Schmitt JA. ‘Effects of tryptophan loading on human cognition, mood, and sleep.’ Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2010 Mar;34(3):387-407. Epub 2009 Aug 26.
2. Berkey, C. S., Rockett, H. R., Willett, W. C., and Colditz, G. A. (2005). Milk, dairy fat, dietary calcium, and weight gain: A longitudinal study of adolescents. Arch. Pediatr. Adolesc. Med.159, 543–550.
3. Zemel, M. B., Donnelly, J. E., Smith, B. K., Sullivan, D. K., Richards, J., Morgan-Hanusa, D., Mayo, M. S., Sun, X., Cook Wiens, G., Bailey, B. W., Van Walleghen, E. L., and Washburn, R. A. (2008). ‘Effects of dairy intake on weight maintenance.’ Nutr. Metab. (Lond.) 5, 28.
4. Zemel, M. B., Thompson, W., Milstead, A., Morris, K., and Campbell, P. (2004). ‘Calcium and dairy acceleration of weight and fat loss during energy restriction in obese adults.’ Obes. Res. 12, 582–590.
5. St-Onge, M. P., Goree, L. L., and Gower, B. (2009). ‘High-milk supplementation with healthy diet counseling does not affect weight loss but ameliorates insulin action compared with low-milk supplementation in overweight children.’ J. Nutr. 139, 933–938.
6. Eagan, M. S., Lyle, R. M., Gunther, C. W., Peacock, M., and Teegarden, D. (2006). ‘Effect of 1- year dairy product intervention on fat mass in young women: 6-month follow-up.’ Obesity (Silver Spring) 14, 2242–2248.
7. Tholstrup, T., Hoy, C. E., Andersen, L. N., Christensen, R. D., and Sandstrom, B. (2004). ‘Does fat in milk, butter and cheese affect blood lipids and cholesterol differently?’ J. Am. Coll. Nutr. 23, 169–176.
8. Hjerpsted J, Leedo E, Tholstrup T. ‘Cheese intake in large amounts lowers LDL-cholesterol concentrations compared with butter intake of equal fat content.’ Am J Clin Nutr. 2011 Dec;94(6):1479-84. Epub 2011 Oct 26.
9. Kashket S, DePaola DP. ‘Cheese consumption and the development and progression of dental caries.’ Nutr Rev. 2002 Apr;60(4):97-103.

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