Can you name something more delicious than cheese? Whether it’s melted on crispy pizza, a burger, between two slices of bread, or eaten on its own with crackers or fruit, the star of the dairy food group comes in a plethora of different types and flavors, and is arguably one of the tastiest foods around. But there are pros and cons of eating it. And yes, you will notice some differences if you happen to eat too much cheese.
While cheese is a good source of protein, calcium, and phosphorus, it’s unfortunately low in fiber.
“Combining plant-based foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole-grain crackers with cheese helps fill nutrient gaps and increases fiber intake,” Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, FAND, award-winning nutrition expert and Wall Street Journal bestselling author of The Best Rotisserie Chicken Cookbook, tells us.
It’s also important to note that certain cheeses are better for you than others. Toby Smithson, MS, RDN, CDE, of DiabetesEveryDay and author of Diabetes Meal Planning and Nutrition further explains that when deciphering which cheeses are good and bad, it’s important to consider your medical history and current conditions in order to break it down into categories.
“The three categories include lower in calories, lower in fat, or lower in sodium,” Smithson says, adding that cheeses that are lowest in calories per one-ounce serving are part-skim mozzarella, Swiss cheese, and feta.
While some cheeses are low in calories, others lack nutritional value and are high in calories and fat per ounce.
“Be aware that cream cheese and Neufchatel cheese do not contain a good source of protein or calcium,” Smithson says. Other high-fat and high calories cheeses to keep an eye on? Cheddar and Colby.
Just like all foods, though, cheese can be eaten in moderation to help avoid long-term health issues. The American Heart Association notes that one portion of cheese is 1.5 ounces and the recommendation for eating cheese is three servings per day. However, there could be disadvantages and advantages of overindulging in the yummy treat.
Here’s what could happen to your body if you eat too much cheese.
Potential weight gain.
It may not be a surprise that consuming cheese can be a driver of weight gain, which is evident in a 2016 study. This is especially common when it’s consumed in high amounts or with other not-so-healthy foods.
“Depending on which type of cheese you choose, you could be adding as much as 100 calories per ounce of cheese since it’s rare that you will eat just one ounce at a time,” Smithson says. “And it will also depend on what you are choosing to eat with your cheese, since cheese may partner with higher-fat, low- fiber foods such as crackers, tortilla chips, pizza crust, low fiber bread, or pasta.”
Amidor also echoes the fact that since one ounce of cheese is a very small portion, you will likely be eating bigger portions in one sitting.
“That means more calories,” she says. “You can take in 800 or 900 calories or even more if you keep eating pieces throughout the day. That can ultimately lead to weight gain.”
Stomach issues such as constipation.
Eating too much cheese—or any dairy for that matter—has been linked to the risk of stomach issues, such as gas and bloating, especially for those who may be lactose intolerant.
“Although cheese is a lower lactose food with one ounce of sharp cheddar cheese, mozzarella cheese, and Swiss cheese providing less than 0.1 grams of lactose, there may be a limit that your body can tolerate at one time,” Amidor says. “Eating an amount of lactose greater than the body’s ability to digest it can lead to gastrointestinal disturbances, which is the definition of lactose intolerance.”
It could be difficult to decipher if you are lactose intolerant, so Amidor notes that it’s important to look out for symptoms like abdominal pain, flatulence, and bloating or see your physician for testing.
Overindulging in cheese can also make it difficult to go to the bathroom. Smithson shares that although cheese is a good source of protein, “it’s not a source of fiber and if you are eating your cheese with an already low fiber eating plan, you will feel the effects of constipation.”
Increased risk of heart disease.
Amidor notes that while cheese can be part of a healthy diet when eaten in moderation, “eating large portions of cheese frequently, especially high-fat cheeses that are high in saturated fat, may increase your risk for heart disease.”
“This is especially true if you have a family history of high cholesterol or heart disease,” she says, noting that the 2015-2020 dietary guidelines for Americans recommend a maximum of 10% of your total daily calories come from saturated fat.
“One ounce of Parmesan cheese, which is about the size of dice, has 23% the daily recommended amount of saturated fat,” Amidor says. “Other hard full-fat cheeses have similar saturated fat content, so eating large portions throughout the day can certainly increase the amount of saturated fat consumed.”
Smithson further suggests that since saturated fat can increase cholesterol levels, “choose mozzarella cheese in place of cheddar cheese as a way to reduce the amount of saturated fat consumed.”
RELATED: Sign up for our newsletter to get daily recipes and food news in your inbox!
High sodium intake.
There’s no denying that cheese is one of the most delicious savory treats. The only problem? Cheese is loaded with sodium. “If you have high blood pressure, it is recommended keeping your sodium to 2,400 milligrams per day or less,” Smithson says. “When looking at best choices for cheeses, make sure to consider the portion size noted for the milligrams of sodium.”
If you’re looking for a low-sodium option, Smithson says to go with Swiss cheese. “Softer cheeses also tend to be lower in sodium as well due to the increased sodium required for the aging process in hard cheeses,” she adds.
Consumption of essential nutrients.
Cheese can easily be part of a healthy diet when not over consumed, especially because it contains a lot of beneficial nutrients. Although nutrient content can vary, “cheese, like cheddar, provides six essential nutrients including protein, calcium, phosphorus, vitamin B12, niacin, and vitamin A,” Amidor says.
It’s important to make sure you are getting good sources of calcium throughout the day, and cheese could be the ticket to that. According to the 2015-2020 dietary guidelines, calcium is an under-consumed nutrient by Americans. “Having enough calcium has been associated with a decreased risk of osteoporosis,” Amirdor adds in reference to a study.
Decreased risk of high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes.
Again, cheese has been included in healthy diet plans because of the dairy intake.
“The DASH eating plan (Dietary Approaches to Stopping Hypertension) is rated year after year as one of the best eating plans and the key to this diet is the portions of each of the food groups recommended,” Smithson says, adding that a recent study showed consumption of dairy products reduced the risk of type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure.
All in all, it’s OK (and even healthy!) to enjoy cheese in moderation in your diet because of the potential benefits it yields. Just don’t over-consume in one sitting or over time to avoid long-term health issues or complications that can arise if you eat too much cheese.