Cheese myths

Myth: Cheese is high in salt, so it’s not good for you

The Government recommends that the average adult should aim to consume no more than 6g of salt per day so it’s important to pay attention to the salt content of the foods we eat.

Cheese is one of the top 10 sources of salt in our diet though some cheeses have a higher salt content than others. 

Typically low salt cheeses include cottage cheese, cream cheese, mozzarella and Emmental, so try these if you’re trying to reduce your salt intake.  It’s best to avoid cheeses such as halloumi, blue cheeses and cheddars.

For more information on cheese and salt, please visit the NHS website here.

Myth: You can’t eat cheese when you’re lactose intolerant

All milk, regardless of which animal it has come from, will contain lactose. However, the level of lactose found in cheese will also be affected by the cheese-making process.  For example, the more whey a cheese retains, the higher the lactose levels will be.  Therefore, best to avoid soft, moist cheeses and experiment more with eating harder, dryer cheeses.

If you are lactose intolerant you may still be able to enjoy eating cheese.  Many individuals who struggle to digest cow’s milk cope better with cheese made from the milk of goats or sheep.  This is to with the lactose being easier to digest and therefore remaining in the system for a shorter time.

Of course, it is important to remember that every person’s level of intolerance will vary.

For further information on lactose intolerance, please visit the NHS website here.

Myth: You can’t eat cheese if you’re on a diet

Generally speaking, cheese does have a high fat content so it contains many of the vitamins and minerals we need to keep healthy.  Certainly, cheese can be enjoyed in modest quantities as part of a healthy, balanced diet. 

If you are trying to reduce your fat intake, it’s a good idea to pay attention to the type of cheese you eat.  For example, goats’ milk is lower in fat than other types of milk, and hard cheeses are higher in fat than soft cheeses as their moisture content is lower.  A few tips to optimise your cheese enjoyment while keeping an eye on fat intake are:

  • Use stronger tasting cheese in your cooked dishes - you should get the same flavour but use less cheese.
  • Avoid ‘low fat’ cheese products.  They are on the whole less flavoursome and satisfying, meaning more is needed.
  • Miss out the butter or margarine if you're having a cheese sandwich, cheese on toast or cheese and biscuits.
  • Grate your cheese as this expands the volume and means you’re likely to use less.

Myth: You can only eat certain types of cheese when you’re pregnant

While dairy foods such as milk and cheese are important to expectant mums because they contain calcium and nutrients that a baby needs, it’s true that some cheeses should be avoided during pregnancy. 

For example, you should steer clear of mould-ripened soft cheese, such as brie, camembert and others with a similar rind, whether they are made using pasteurised or unpasteurised milk.

You should also avoid soft blue-veined cheeses such as roquefort and gorgonzola. These are made with moulds that can contain listeria, a type of bacteria that can harm an unborn baby.

You can eat hard cheeses such as cheddar and parmesan, even if unpasteurised, and cheeses such as cottage cheese, mozzarella and ricotta made from pasteurised milk. For more information on cheese and pregnancy, please visit the NHS website here.

Myth: Eating cheese in the evening gives you nightmares

It is not clear where the cheese and nightmares myth originated. It has been linked to Charles Dickens' character Scrooge who blamed ‘a crumb of cheese’ on his night-time visitations in A Christmas Carol. The myth has also been associated with a 1950s health scare when cheese was found to be problematic for people using a particular antidepressant.

A study by the British Cheese Board in 2005 looking at the effect of cheese upon sleep and dreaming discovered that, contrary to the idea that cheese commonly causes nightmares, the effect of cheese upon sleep was positive. Cheese contains tryptophan, an amino acid that has been found to relieve stress and induce sleep.

The majority of the two hundred people tested over a fortnight claimed beneficial results from consuming cheeses before going to bed - the cheese promoting good sleep. Six British cheeses were tested and the findings were that the dreams produced were specific to the type of cheese though none of the cheeses tested were found to induce nightmares. The researchers said the results might be entirely different if a wider range of cheeses were tested.  Read more here.

Myth: Cheese is addictive

A recent study, reported in the national media, has given rise to suggestions that cheese is addictive.

However, the findings of the study should be considered in context.  The research, by the University of Michigan, showed that highly processed foods with added fats and refined carbohydrates such as ice cream, cookies and cake are harder to give up. 

Singling out the presence of cheese further down on this list (below products such as those listed but above eggs, banana and broccoli), claims were made that cheese’s ‘addictive quality’ is down to the presence in cheese of something called casein.  Casein when broken down by the body produces a by-product called casomorphin which has been said to have an addictive effect on the brain similar to morphine.

However this claim has been made by a dietician who works for an advocacy group called Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, which pushes veganism and urges people to shun cheese, so we would advise the research is regarded with caution.

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