Cheese is one of the most frequently eaten foods in America, the home of obesity and overweight. For health reasons, many individuals are decreasing their meat intake but when it comes to cheese, “no way”! What makes cheese so difficult to eat in moderation or to avoid? It provides the combination of fat which helps you feel satisfied and salt which tantalizes your taste buds. It also contains compounds called casomorphins which are derived from the protein found in milk called casein. Casomorphins attach to the opiate receptors in the brain and trigger the brain to release dopamine, which leads to feelings of reward and pleasure. It is no surprise that cheese consumption has sky rocketed. In 1909 the average American ate less than 4 pounds of cheese per year. Today, an American eats more than 33 pounds annually. It has become a multi-million dollar industry to promote tasty and cheesy high fat foods to the public.
The rising amount of cheese consumed in the United States is directly associated with the obesity epidemic and leading cause of death, heart disease. Cheese is very calorie dense and the majority of calories come from fat. Most of the fat is saturated fat which leads to insulin resistance and elevated cholesterol levels. The typical sodium content per ounce ranges from 175 mg (cheddar) to 450 mg (parmesan) for those concerned about their blood pressure. So why do we eat it? If you are eating cheese for the protein or calcium content, choose healthier choices such as nuts.
Interested in alternatives to cheese?
• Try sprinkling roasted sunflower seeds or chick peas on your salad
• Mix nutritional yeast into your pasta sauces or meat-less meatball recipes
• Find a recipe for cashew cheese or try vegan cheese
• Squeeze fresh lemon on your cooked vegetables for flavor
• Take cheese out of your sandwich and add avocado, roasted red peppers or hummus
It is still important to watch the calorie content when choosing your foods. Good luck!
Carol Penfield MS, NPc is a nurse practitioner and certified personal trainer who specializes in Lifestyle Medicine at Emerald Physicians in Yarmouth. She offers private appointments as well as shared medical appointments for weight loss, which are covered by insurance.

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