Evidence-based cheese!

It’s summer-time in the Finger Lakes – a great time of year to sample regional wines along one of the three local wine trails.  On your tour this year, you can pair that wine with some delicious, local cheese.

Cornell Cooperative Extension has teamed up with regional cheese-makers to create the Finger Lakes Cheese Trail – a driving tour of local creameries where you can learn about the craft of cheese-making and sample local varieties including sheep’s milk cheese, goudas, goat cheese, cheddars, jacks, Colby and even cheese curds.

They’re absolutely delicious!  But are they good for our diets?

The evidence says yes. In fact, cheese provides a myriad of health benefits. A single serving of cheese provides about 300 mg of calcium – nearly one-third of the daily recommended amount.  And a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition demonstrated that getting calcium from cheese rather than supplements leads to improvements in bone density. Cheese packs in other key nutrients, too, including like protein, magnesium, folate, B1, B2, B6, B12, and vitamins A, D, and E.

Unfortunately, there’s a downside to cheese. Many cheeses are also high in cholesterol, sodium and saturated fat, which can contribute to obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease and cancer. But that doesn’t mean you should eliminate cheese from your diet.

Nutritionists at Yale-New Haven Hospital have published some guidelines on incorporating cheese in a healthy diet. Among their recommendations are:

  • If you like to eat hard cheeses , look for “fat free,” “reduced fat” or “low fat” versions.
  • When looking for soft cheeses, low fat , part-skim or light products are available.
  • If you do use full-fat cheese in a recipe, cut the amount in half to reduce your fat and sodium intake.

So, go ahead. Melt some cheddar on that burger, sprinkle a bit of gorgonzola in your salad or visit a Finger Lakes creamery. As long as you indulge in moderation, you’ll reap all of the health benefits from cheese.

Sheri Hall

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