There is little that gets me more riled up than the denigration of cheese. The fact that many writers do not include cheese in their recommended lists of beneficial foods is almost as frustrating.
In his article, Cheese and the Obesity Epidemic, Dr. Neal Barnard (who is a psychiatrist, not a dietician) states that people have been told that the problem with their attempts to lose weight is a lack of exercise. It is a contributing factor: the increasingly sedentary lifestyles of most Americans (combined with the number of empty calories we consume); that lack of exercise tips the scales. He goes on to state that cheese is 70% fat. Anyone can read the fat content on a cheese label. Is he suggesting that the reported percentages are terribly inaccurate?
Triple-crèmes are the only cheese types that reach that level, and they are mostly water. 75% of the weight in those triple-crèmes is not fat; rather it is 75% fat after the water is removed. This is standard practice in the industry – that the fat content is measured by the amount contained in the cheese without the water; the water content is variable. Yet in his article he says cheese (assuming that he means all cheese) is 70% fat. False!
I agree that our changing eating habits have contributed to our weight gain. We should stop and look more closely at the lists of ingredients on our foods. Those lists may leave out the genetically modified organisms, the trace amounts of pesticides and herbicides; yet at the top of the list or very close to it, you will find sugar. Besides all those unnatural chemicals we find in our groceries, the sugar itself is beginning to look like a particularly serious poison.
Dr. Barnard is attributing the following claims to whom?
“First of all, people trying to lose weight have been lied to” and “They have been lied to about food, with quick-fix, low-carb advocates pointing a finger to blame at bread and fruit…”
Who is saying this? The low-carb advocates have already lost some credibility. By the way, we cheese people love our whole grain breads and fruits. We appreciate all those nutrients; all of them are found in cheese except for vitamin C and fiber.
Here’s another quote from the article:
“That’s why people in Asian countries stayed thin and healthy until Western fast-food chains brought in meat, cheese, and other junk foods…”
The cheese brought in by fast-food chains is a weak facsimile for actual cheese. This is an example of how the standardization of foodstuffs have lumped all cheeses together, as though there is only one kind. I must admit however: given a choice among the foods available in our grocery stores I would still choose one on those industrial process cheeses over most everything else. One of the growing problems with the Asian waist lines is there own adoption of fast foods with the “empty” calories they contain. And of course they have their own increasingly sedentary lifestyles.
Another quote from his article:
“But most of all, they have been lied to by the meat and dairy industries, which aim to convince us that we need cheese and other unhealthful foods”.
Here he is attributing the claim to these industries. The dairy industry does not suggest that consumers need cheese, though most of us know that we are much better off with it. I believe that we should have cheese, not that we need to have it. When I am around someone that says they cannot eat cheese I know that there will be more for the rest of us who can.
I suppose Dr. Barnard has only been exposed to the more industrial styles of cheeses, bereft of important nutrients. If one of these less pleasing and less nutritious cheeses was all that was available it would make it more difficult to argue the pros of cheese. Fortunately there is growing appreciation of cheese in this country; the availability and quality of fine cheeses has improved immensely. The bar has been raised, Dr. Barnard. Many of us in the industry have been addressing the bad-mouthing for such a long time that we have armed ourselves with strong evidence on behalf of cheese. We have surveyed the results of statistical research conducted at various institutions and we like what we find. Those institutions include Harvard College of Medicine, Dartmouth Medical School, the University of Texas, Iowa State University, the University of Wisconsin, the United States National Library of Medicine, just to name a few.
The results keep coming in: cheese is not the cause of our obesity epidemic; in fact the fattier cheeses can actually help us to lose weight. Those fats stimulate the production of cholescystokinin which gives us a sensation of satiety.
Conjugated linoleic acid, a fatty acid available in cheese, has been shown to be an effective weight reducer in multiple studies, and a cancer fighter in many others. The type of CLA found in cheese reduces the risk of diabetes and reverses arteriosclerosis. Not to get off the obesity challenge, but there are plenty more outstanding nutritional qualities available in cheese. Eat a little bit of cheese and you eat less other foods, foods that are much less nutritious but still provide the calories.
Dr. Barnard’s charge that cheese elevates our cholesterol levels is disputed by the presence of CLA, higher concentrations of some amino acids such as taurine and lysine, and calcium, which all help to improve our overall cholesterol levels.
Anecdotally, when you look around the ballroom at the annual American Cheese Society conferences you will see one of the healthiest and happiest groups of people anywhere, and their waist lines are thinning.