The Surprising Health Benefits Of Cheese

A crazy thing happened to me the other night. I skipped dinner, and I NEVER skip dinner. How did it happen? In a word: cheese. Not just any cheese. The full-fat, delicious, artisanal cheese from the new Cheese Culture shop in downtown Fort Lauderdale was so satisfying a snack that it curbed my appetite for the entire night. I didn't even eat that much of it.

At a recent event in this shrine to cheese, I was surprised to learn from cheese authority and author of Mastering Cheese, Max McCalman, that full-fat cheese has some impressive health benefits. “I'm on a mission to rescue cheese,” McCalman said at the event. “It's had a bad rep for so long.” We're always told to eat fat-free dairy, but doing so may make us miss out on the positive things that come from full-fat cheeses. The first benefit, which I experienced first hand, was appetite suppression. And judging by McCalman's lean physique, it happens to him a lot, too.

“Greeks eat three times as much cheese as we do and they are not as obese as we are and have fewer cardiovascular problems,” McCalman said. Which brings me to the second major benefit, a lower risk of cardiovascular disease. I know that sounds counter intuitive that full-fat cheese can lower risk of heart disease, but apparently quality cheese made from milk from grass-fed cows is naturally high in CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), which has been widely studied and shown to aid in fat and cholesterol reduction. It doesn't stop there. CLA has also been touted as a cancer fighter. Unfortunately, you're likely to find the highest amount of CLA in French cheeses since their cows are mostly raised on pastures with plenty of grass. Still, standard American cheese made from cow's milk from grain-fed cattle has some CLA, just not nearly as much.

My favorite benefit from cheese; however, has to be its affect on mood-and not just on cheese lovers. “Cheese makes you happy,” McCalman said. “It has casein which turns into opioid peptides." These actually mimic opiates in the brain. This is also why cheese is so addictive so be careful you don't overdo it. I already knew that cheese made me happy. I just didn't know it was a universal truth for the world. Now, I'm not saying you should go home and eat a wheel of cheese (moderation!) but maybe now you won't feel too bad about the occasional indulgence. Spread the word. Cheese is making a comeback.