- Is cheese bad for you?’
- A very strange U-turn on salt…
- So what is GOOD or BAD for us? My shocking conclusion…
Take a good look at that piece of cheese in the photo.
Can you see the evil in its pockmarked, gnarly features?
It’s almost as if it’s snarling at us.
“Come on and eat me if you dare!” it rages. “I might be delicious – and I mean REALLY delicious – but I mean you harm.”
Yes, my friend, behold the new public food enemy number 1.
That is, according to Dr Neal Barnard, president of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.
He’s written a book called The Cheese Trap: How Breaking a Surprising Addiction Will Help You Lose Weight, Gain Energy and Get Healthy.
He says: “People have blamed sugar for weight problems and other ills when the real issues are elsewhere.”
And it’s pretty obvious what he means by ‘elsewhere’.
He means CHEESE.
Barnard says that cheese is addictive because it contains opiates. Also salt, which can be habit forming. Plus fats, which make us crave more fats.
The danger was so great he was profiled in The Times last month with the headline:
ARE YOU A CHEESE ADDICT?
Now I don’t doubt Dr Barnard’s credentials.
And as The Times points out, 56% of people in the UK believe that cheese is a “healthy snack”, which seems a high percentage to me.
I’m pretty sure you’re aware that cheese is a tasty treat and not a health food, right? I mean, yes it has calcium in it but if you ate big blocks of cheese every day and you were putting on weight you’d definitely think of cutting down the cheese, wouldn’t you?
Obviously you’d miss it a bit, but would it be like giving up alcohol or nicotine?
Sorry, I’m a little sceptical. Mainly because I read too many research papers my brain is full of arguments.
For instance, what about the compelling research from Edinburgh University published in 2014? They concluded that people can become addicted to eating for its own sake but not to specific foods high in sugar or fat.
And by comparing cheese to sugar as a health threat… well it strikes me as a big contrarian idea that sells books, more than a convincing challenge to the status quo.
Sugar and syrups infiltrate almost every part of our diets, creeping into drinks, cereals, crisps, processed meals, pasta sauces….
Not so much with cheese.
My children don’t constantly nag me for cheese.
When they have sleepovers, it’s not cheese their friends are sneaking into the bedroom – it’s sugar, sugar, sugary things and more sugar.
What’s more, there was some research which I read in 2016 which showed that the salt in cheese was greatly cancelled out by the antioxidant properties of the proteins in cheese.
Yes, cheese contains antioxidants.
Lacy Alexander, associate professor of kinesiology and a lead researcher on the project said that “eating sodium in the form of a dairy product, such as cheese, may be protective.”
In other words, as a vehicle for salt, cheese is a pretty good option compared to other sodium-rich foods.
Possibly in the same way that, if you’re going to eat a sweet treat then dark chocolate is a good option, as it’s packed with antioxidants known as flavanoids.
It strikes me that stories suddenly victimising cheese and letting processed sugar products off the hook aren’t very helpful.
Dr Barnard may be right, but will a war on cheese – an ancient delicacy beloved of millions – really solve problems of disease and obesity in the same way as a war on sugar?
And are things EVER so simple?
Because this is where the story gets crazy…
Cheese could help your salt intake
Cheese may even be good for you if you are to believe another outspoken expert.
Only a few weeks ago, a world leading expert on heart health named Professor Salim Yusuf said that it was dangerous to lower our salt intake as much as we’re being told.
The recommended 6g of salt per day, he said, was too low and could actually increase chances of heart disease.
So could cheese be a relatively safe way to get a bit more sodium into our diets without the negative effects?
I’m not going to pretend I have the answer. But it’s no wonder that most people in the public, including us here at The People’s Doctor, feel overwhelmed, frustrated and confused by the torrent of conflicting information.
We eat too much salt… then not enough salt… then salt of the wrong kind….
We eat too much fat…. then not enough fat… then not enough of the right fats…
We drink too much coffee… then coffee is suddenly good for us… then it’s bad for us again… then its good again…
We don’t eat enough fish… the we eat too much fish because it’s contaminated… then we eat too much or the wrong fish or not enough of the right fish…
Wine good again..
…then eggs good…
And what about avocados? Are they in or out?
PLEASE STOP THE FOOD NEWS MERRY-GO-ROUND I WANT TO GET OFF!
As the team at the University of Edinburgh found in 2014, it’s not the specific foods that are the problem, but our relationship with food. It’s about issues in our lives, from sleep problems to psychological problems to genes to habits to our ingrained beliefs.
They said, “people try to find rational explanations for being over-weight and it is easy to blame food.”
Of course eating cheese in huge amounts every day can make you unhealthy… but is it the cheese, really? Is the cheese the only reason you crave cheese?
Or as Shakespeare said, “To brie, or not to brie?”
I’ll leave you with that dramatic burning question.
How to find out more…
If you want our honest, no nonsense opinion on food and diet, please check out the People’s Doctor website. You can browse the homepage here or use the search engine to look for specific topics.
For instance, type “diet” into the search box and you’ll get this list of related posts.
Until next time, stay healthy!