Cheese & Nutrition
Cheese please! Ever wondered why cheese is always a topic of conversation, particularly when you visit the dentist? Or, that a food that tastes so delicious, can actually be good for you?
At Cheesematters.com.au, we’ve taken the mystery out of cheese, with a wealth of information about the nutritional benefits of cheese and how it can be part of your everyday, balanced diet.
Nutrient profile & recommendations
Cheese contains the goodness of a number of essential nutrients, including protein, calcium, zinc, phosphorus, magnesium, vitamin A, vitamin B2 (riboflavin) and vitamin B12.
The amount of nutrients in cheese may vary depending on the composition of milk used and also how the cheese is made, but the major nutrients found in cheese include: [1,2,3,4]:
- Protein – is important for growth and development, and helping to build and repair tissues in the body.
- Calcium – is important for the health of bones and teeth, and for normal nerve and muscle function.
- Zinc – can contribute to the structure of skin, can assist in wound healing, and can also help support immune function.
- Phosphorus – is important for the health of bones and teeth.
- Vitamin A – is a fat soluble vitamin which is important for vision, for maintaining the health of skin, as well as being important for bones.
- Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin) – is involved in converting energy from food, for use by the body.
- Vitamin B12 – is important for producing cells in the body, such as red blood cells.
The Dietary Guidelines for Australians recommend that we enjoy a wide variety of nutritious foods and include milk, yogurt, cheese and/or alternatives (choosing reduced fat varieties where possible), for the nutritional benefits they can provide – particularly calcium [5,6].
According to the 1995 National Nutrition Survey, dairy foods are the richest source of calcium in the Australian diet, providing over 50% of the total calcium in an adult’s diet and over 60% for children – cheese alone accounts for nearly one-fifth of this (approximately 18%) .
The recently released Nutrient Reference Values for Australia and New Zealand recommend 1000mg of calcium per day for adults (19-50 years)*. This can be achieved with 3-4 serves of dairy per day, whereby a serve of dairy is equal to:
- 1 cup milk (250mL)
- 2 slices of cheese (40g)
- 1 tub yogurt (200g) .
Therefore, cheese can help meet the recommended daily intake of dairy foods and calcium. It’s easy!
*The food law in Australia has not yet updated the recommended dietary intake (RDI) levels for use on food labelling and packaging. These are still calculated using 800mg for adults.
Benefits of cheese
Not only does cheese taste good, it can provide a range of benefits to the body. Here’s a list of benefits that have been linked with cheese and other dairy products:
Cheese and Dental Health
Teeth and bones are very much alike. So the calcium, phosphorus and protein found naturally in dairy foods, such as cheese are just as important for teeth as they are for your bones.
Dental problems are a common, but preventable problem in Australia. In fact, the National Survey of Adult Oral Health (2004 – 06), shows that around one in 20 Australians aged 15 to 97 years had lost all of their natural teeth .
Problems with our teeth can happen when bacteria on our teeth turn sugars and starches into plaque (build-up), creating an acidic environment around the teeth. This can breakdown the tooth enamel, which is the outer coating of the tooth, through the loss of the minerals calcium and phosphate. Saliva actually protects teeth by acting as a buffer to the acidity, and helping the teeth repair themselves. If there is too much acid continually attacking the teeth, then dental problems can happen .
The good news is that cheese can help play a protective role for our teeth.
The nutrients in cheese are important for your teeth in a number of ways [10,11,12]:
- Calcium, phosphorus and protein can help with the normal structure of teeth. The main protein found in cheese is called casein.
- The nutrients in cheese can help block the build up of acid on your teeth which can occur after eating sugary foods.
- The combination of protein (casein), phosphorus and calcium in cheese may actually help put minerals back into teeth.
- Consuming cheese may also stimulate saliva, which can also help to reduce dental problems.
The Australian Dental Association recommends eating a small amount of cheese after meals as studies show the nutrients in cheese are important for the normal structure of teeth .
So enjoy your cheese and smile with confidence!
Lactose – what do you need to know?
Lactose is a carbohydrate naturally found in milk and milk products. It is broken down and digested by the body by an enzyme called lactase. Some people who do not produce enough lactase may have trouble digesting lactose, and for some, it may also cause unpleasant gut symptoms.
Although cheese is made from milk, it has a low lactose content compared to other dairy foods, and can generally be enjoyed by people that have concerns with lactose digestion [14,15,16].
During the cheesemaking process, the whey component of milk is removed. This is where most of the lactose content of milk is found. Cheeses such as Cheddar and Swiss-styles undergo a further process called ripening, giving the cheeses their unique flavour, texture and appearance. During the ripening phase, any remaining lactose is often converted into lactic acid and other products, so little or no lactose is left in the cheese. Sometimes optional ingredients such as non-fat milk and cheese whey may be added, and this can increase the amount of lactose found in cheese. Fresh cheeses such as creamed cottage cheese and marscapone contain higher levels of lactose. However, most varieties of cheese are low in lactose and are generally well tolerated .
Don’t forget that dairy foods, such as cheese are an important source of calcium for the body – so help get the calcium you need each day and be friendly to your tummy!
Did you know that there are 206 bones in the human body? They are made up of a mineral matrix, which largely consists of calcium, phosphate and protein.
Our bones grow and repair throughout our lives but they grow most rapidly during childhood and adolescence. In fact, the skeleton increases in mass seven fold between birth and puberty and a further three fold during adolescence. As adults, we need plenty of calcium to help slow the bone loss that occurs naturally with ageing [1,18].
The link between calcium in the diet and bone health has been well established . We need calcium everyday because bones are continually being repaired and renewed (that's how broken bones mend!). Cheese and other dairy foods are naturally rich in calcium, as well as a whole range of other bone friendly nutrients such as protein, phosphorus, magnesium, and zinc.
So, eat up, for your bones!
A balanced diet
So having cheese in moderation as a snack or part of a meal can:
- help you reach your daily serves of dairy for calcium to look after your bones.
- keep you smiling and know you are helping your teeth stay in tip-top shape
- be satisfying and filling to help you reach or maintain your ideal weight
Remember to follow a balanced diet and combine this with physical activity on most days of the week. This can also help in maintaining an ideal body weight.
For further information in this area, please consult your General Practitioner or an Accredited Practising Dietitian.
1 Miller GD et al. (2000) Handbook of Dairy Foods and Nutrition. 2nd ed. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.
2NHMRC. (2006) Nutrient Reference Values for Australia and New Zealand including Recommended Dietary Intakes. Canberra: NHMRC.
3FSANZ. (2008) Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code. Canberra: ANSTAT.
4Geissler C et al. (2005) Human Nutrition. 11th ed. Edinburgh: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone.
5NHMRC. (2003) Dietary Guidelines for Australian Adults. Canberra: NHRMC.
6NHMRC. (2003) Dietary Guidelines for Children and Adolescents in Australia. Canberra: NHMRC.
7McLennan, W & Podger A. (1998) National Nutrition Survey: Nutrient Intakes and Physical Measurements, Australia, 1995. Catalogue No. 4805.0. Canberra: ABS.
8Smith A, Kellett E & Schmerlaib Y. (1998) The Australian Guide to Healthy Eating. Canberra: AGPS.
9AIHW (2007) Australia’s dental generations: The national survey of adult oral health 2004 – 2006. Canberra: AIHW.
10Herod EL (1991) Aust Dent J 36: 120-5.
11Moynihan PJ et al (1999) Br Dent J 187:664-667.
12Kashket S et al (2002) Nutr Rev 60: 97-103.
13Australian Dental Association. (2002) www.ada.org.au
14Pribila BA (2000) J Am Diet Assoc 100: 524-28.
15McBean LD et al. (1998) J Am Diet Assoc 98, 671-676.
16Jarvis JK et al. (2002) J Natl Med Assoc 94: 55-66.
17Peacock M., (1991). Am J Clin Nutr; 54(1): 261S-265S.
18Heaney RP (2000) J Am Coll Nutr 19: 83S – 99S.