Chock-full of healthy proteins and calcium, cheese can be part of a balanced diet, if eaten in moderation. For those with high blood pressure, however, eating cheese can be problematic. The fat content of cheese can potentially contribute to high blood pressure, but the main concern is the high sodium content found in many cheeses. Limiting the amount of cheese you eat, as well as choosing low-sodium cheeses, might help reduce the risk of exacerbating high blood pressure, but it's best to consult your doctor before changing your diet.
High Blood Pressure
Blood pressure is the measurement of the force that your blood exerts against the walls of your arteries as it is pumped through your body by your heart. When your blood pressure is too high -- medically referred to as hypertension -- it can cause damage because it stresses your arteries as well as various organs such as your heart and kidneys. Over time, this can lead to a variety of potentially fatal maladies, including stroke, kidney disease and heart attack or heart failure. The exact cause of high blood pressure is often unknown, but certain factors, such as high levels of sodium in your blood, can exacerbate it.
Cheese and Sodium
Salt is made up of sodium and chloride, although many people use the terms "sodium" and "salt" interchangeably. Many cheeses are high in salt and consequently sodium, which can be dangerous if you have high blood pressure. Increased levels of sodium in your blood means increased levels of fluid in your blood vessels, and this ultimately increases your blood pressure. The American Heart Association recommends limiting daily sodium intake to 1,500 milligrams. A teaspoon of salt contains about 2,400 milligrams of sodium.
The amount of sodium in cheeses can vary depending on the process used to make them, but some cheeses typically contain more sodium than others. For example, 1 ounce of processed American cheese -- about one slice -- contains 406 milligrams of sodium, which is almost one-third of the AHA's recommended daily amount. One the other end of the scale, 1 ounce of Swiss cheese contains about 74 milligrams of sodium, and 1 ounce of Gruyere contains about 95 milligrams of sodium. Mozzarella, with 118 milligrams of sodium an ounce, and cottage cheese, with 107 milligrams, are also typically lower in sodium than most cheeses.
Consuming a moderate amount of cheese as part of your diet might help prevent problems if you have high blood pressure, but keeping track of your overall sodium intake is important, as it can be easy to go over the recommended 1,500 milligram a day limit. Reading labels carefully on cheeses to check for sodium content can be helpful, but a report published in the March 2011 "Journal of Dairy Science" reported that manufacturers of the most commonly consumed cheeses in the United States tended to be conservative with their reporting of sodium on labels, so choosing a sodium-free cheese may be your best bet. Eating potassium-rich foods, such as potatoes, greens and bananas, can help as well, as potassium helps flush sodium from the body. Consult a qualified health practitioner, such as a registered dietitian, for advice on the best diet for your needs.
- International Dairy Foods Association: History of Cheese
- National Institutes of Health National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute: What Is High Blood Pressure?
- American Heart Association: Sodium (Salt or Sodium Chloride)
- Cleveland Clinic: High Blood Pressure and Nutrition
- MedlinePlus: High Blood Pressure
- Commonwealth of Massachusetts Health and Human Services: Sodium/Salt
- Journal of Dairy Science: Sodium Content in Retail Cheddar, Mozzarella, and Process Cheeses Varies Considerably in the United States
- Community Health Center of Snohomish County: The Sodium Content for 1 Ounce of Cheese
- American Heart Association: Striking a Balance: Less Sodium (Salt), More Potassium