Is Eating Meat and Cheese Together Healthy?

Sandwich with ham and cheese
Close-up of a ham and cheese sandwich. (Image: Sebalos/iStock/Getty Images)

Eating a diet high in red meat and processed meat increases your risk of heart disease, diabetes and colon cancer, according to the Harvard School of Public Health. High consumption of dairy products, such as cheese, elevates your risk of fatal prostate and ovarian cancers. In previous generations, people who restricted eating meat and cheese together, knowingly or unknowingly, made a healthy dietary choice. When eaten together, the high saturated fat content in these foods may increase your risk of developing these diseases.

Saturated Fats

Saturated fats are solids at room temperatures. Eating a diet high in saturated fats is unhealthy because they increase cholesterol levels, which in turn increases the risk of heart attack and stroke. The American Heart Association recommends that saturated fats constitute no more than 7 percent of total calories eaten in a day. This means that total saturated fats should not exceed 16 grams a day in a 2,000-calorie diet. A better way of thinking about the healthiness of combining meat and cheese involves looking at the saturated fat content of each one.

Healthy Meats

Two ounces of packaged sliced roast beef have 1 gram of saturated fat. The same amount of beef cut from a Sunday roast, trimmed to 1/8 inch fat, has about 3 grams of saturated fat. By way of comparison, the saturated fat in 2 ounces of grilled chicken is only 0.5 grams. Combining chicken and cheese is healthier than combining roast beef and cheese.

Combining ham and cheese can be healthy if you purchase ham that is low in saturated fat. While a single slice of ham from the deli has 1 gram of saturated fat, extra-lean ham has far less. Three slices of extra-lean ham have the same amount of saturated fat as a single slice of regular ham.

Healthy Cheeses

The saturated fat content of cheeses varies widely. While 1 ounce of cheddar cheese has 9.4 grams saturated fat, 1 ounce of Swiss and 1 ounce of Parmesan have 7 grams. Ricotta made from skim milk has substantially less, with only 2 grams in 1 ounce. Substituting cheeses that are lower in saturated fat when you cook dishes that mix meat and cheese is a good practice. For example, meat lasagna is healthier if you use more ricotta and Parmesan, and less mozzarella.

Low-Fat Cheeses

One ounce of low-fat cheddar or Colby has only 1.2 grams saturated fat. One ounce of low-fat Swiss cheese has even less, with 0.5 grams saturated fat. These low fat cheeses can be used to substitute for higher-fat cheeses to minimize the total amount of saturated fat in dishes that combine meat and cheese.

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