Cheese is high in calories (about 100 per ounce, on average) and fat (6 to 9 grams per ounce, most of which is saturated), and it often contains a lot of sodium. Still, small amounts can fit into most peoples diets. Lately some researchers and marketers have been emphasizing the potentially healthful aspects of cheese. But generally the research is scanty or conflicting.
Calcium, plus. Like all dairy foods, cheese provides calcium and protein, as well as some vitamin A, B12, riboflavin, zinc, and phosphorus. And its a source of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a fat that may have anti-cancer, weight-reducing, and heart-protective effects. But youd have to eat a lot of cheese to get meaningful amounts of CLA, which means youd also get a lot of unhealthy saturated fat and calories. Low-fat cheese contains less CLA; nonfat cheese contains none.
For cavity resistance? Its no replacement for your toothbrush, but cheese may help prevent cavities. In a small study from Turkey last year, in the journal Caries, people who ate cheese (just 1/3 ounce) after rinsing with a sugar solution had a rapid decrease in acidity, which lowers the risk of cavities. Older studies have found a similar protective acid-buffering effect.
For weight loss? Whether dairy foods, including cheese, help in weight control is controversial. A new study in Nutrition & Metabolism, funded by the National Dairy Council, suggests that cheese and other dairy foods may help prevent weight gain after dieting; another study found that regular cheese eaters gained less weight over time than those who ate cheese less often. But other studies, including one from Johns Hopkins in 2008, have found that people who eat more cheese tend to be more overweight.
Cancer connection? Whether cheese has an effect, good or bad, on cancer risk is also debatable. A large Swedish study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition a few years ago found a link between cheese (at least 2 ounces a day) and reduced risk of colorectal cancer in women. Other studies have not found this benefit. A few have even linked dairy products, including cheese, to increased prostate and ovarian cancerthough others have found no such link.
Heart disease? Cheese may not be especially good for your heartbut some research suggests that it may not be so bad for it either, at least when its part of an overall healthy diet. In fact, the Mediterranean diet, which is associated with many health benefits including a lowered risk of cardiovascular disease, allows for moderate amounts of cheese. And dairy foods, including cheese, are an important part of the anti-hypertension DASH diet.