It is a pity that cheese is not a subject taught in medical school. Several physician friends tell me that nutrition itself receives little attention. We would like to hear our medical professionals expound the advice of Hippocrates, the father of western medicine, who said “Let food be your medicine and medicine be your food.”
Most cheese we know today is so far removed from that primordial life-sustaining mammalian milk that it should be no surprise that a group of physicians in upstate New York is targeting dairy as a cause for America’s burgeoning obesity problems. They have correctly noted that the per capita cheese consumption has tripled since the 1970’s. Concomitantly a growing rise in obesity has occurred, yet these two trends are not directly related. The causes of obesity are not linked to the effects of consumption of dairy products. Some of the larger culprits in this weight gain are not the types that most people suspect: whole milk and full-fat cheeses. Instead, a significant part of the blame rests with the low-fat and skim-milk dairy products, and their depleted weight-reducing qualities.
The Albany area Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) has launched a graphic billboard campaign depicting grossly oversized abdomens and thighs, warning that cheese contributes to high obesity rates and poses health risks. The group has gone so far as to write the Albany school board asking the city to cut down on dairy products served in schools to help students reduce the risk of childhood obesity.
PCRM President, Dr. Neal Barnard, said in a news release “Typical cheeses are 70% fat,” which is blatantly untrue. The only cheeses that reach that level are the triple crèmes, which happen to have their own excellent weight-reducing qualities. Further he claims “…the type of fat they hold is mainly saturated fat — the kind that increases your risk of heart disease and diabetes.” It is embarrassing that our physicians are so terribly misinformed. Suffice it to say, many of today’s western medicine practices are treating symptoms instead of recommending effective dietary prevention methods.
Regardless, even among dieticians there appears to be more cheese phobia than cheese appreciation. For the many that do accept dairy, the low-fat varieties are the ones that are usually recommended. These low-fat products may be some of the biggest shams the food industry has ever thrust on mankind. It is increasingly being recognized that it is not the fat itself that puts the pounds on, it is the consumption of excess calories that go unexpended. Calories can be derived from protein (which cheese contains) carbohydrates, as well as fat. It is too simplistic, as well as inaccurate, to say that fat that is consumed will automatically go to your abdomen or thighs. In otherwise healthy people our digestive systems have grand plans for the utilization of fats; the systems are not straight-shot conveyor belts to our waist lines.
Fat actually curbs our appetites by triggering the release of cholecystokinin, a hormone that yields a feeling of satiety, and one that is directly involved in the metabolysis of proteins and fats. Other hunger suppressors found in cheese include certain peptides and their amino acids. Many of the proteins (including their building-block peptides and amino acids), as well as many of the vitamins and minerals that cheese contain, all help to metabolize the foods we consume. After all, cheese is preserved milk – our first and only food for the first several weeks or months of our lives. This is one of the fundamental reasons why cheese can help us reduce weight if we choose to; it is a near-complete food which (except for vitamin C and fiber) provides all the nutrients we require.
Speaking of fat, the higher fat cheeses provide more conjugated linoleic acid, the valuable fatty acid. CLA has been shown to be an effective weight reducer in multiple studies. This fatty acid (which happens to be a beneficial trans-fat) is a by-product of lypolysis – the breakdown of the fats. Fat slows the release of sugar into our bloodstream, reducing the amount that can be stored as fat. Our LDL cholesterol levels can be raised by dairy consumption, however there is more than one kind of LDL and dairy fat affects only the benign kind.
Cheese is such a near-complete food (especially the high-fat cheeses) that we can reach satiety long before we have consumed excess calories, calories which in turn lead to weight gain if not expended.
The low-fat dairy products contain additives which are high in dangerous oxidized cholesterol which can form arterial plaque. The pasteurized low-fat dairy products are nutritionally depleted through protein denaturing and the elimination of significant levels of fat-soluble vitamins; just to list a couple of the losses.
In 2005, researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health studied the weight and milk comsumption of children. Contrary to their hypothesis, skim and 1% milks were associated with weight gain, but dairy fat was not.
Cheese does not claim to be a “perfect” food but there is no more complete food available to us. Cheese also continues to enjoy an excellent track record for food safety, safer than fruits and vegetables.
To the PCRM group I say: “Find some other food to pick on. Cheese production offers the only viable enterprise remaining for the family farm. Cheese has suffered enough.”
Max McCalmanPosted by Artisanal Cheese