Blue cheese health benefits come from the vitamins and minerals in it — and in most cheeses — but you must also take the fat and salt content into account. Cheeses such as blue Stilton and Roquefort may contain key vitamins, but that's not the entire picture.
Blue cheese, like many dairy products, has healthy vitamins and minerals (such as vitamin B12 and calcium) but it's also high in fat, salt and cholesterol. If you're a cheese lover, consume it in moderation to stay healthy.
Read more: Is Feta Cheese Healthy?
Blue Cheese: The Facts
There are different varieties that make up the blue cheese group. It is a general term used to describe cheeses created from cow's, goat's and sheep's milk that have distinctive blue, gray or green veins of mold running through them.
These veins are what create the unique taste and smell that make blue cheese so desirable or so repugnant — depending on your particular taste. These veins are created by the process of adding bacteria cultures of the Penicillin variety to the cheese, either through injection before the curds have formed or by mixing them in following the curd development.
Most commonly the bacteria culture in blue cheeses is Penicillium roqueforti. It has been described as "little enzyme factories that create the distinctive flavor, aroma, and appearance of blue cheeses" by the Cheese Science Toolkit.
This form of mold is vastly different from the mold that may grow on a bit of forgotten bread, because it does not produce mycotoxins. These are naturally occurring chemicals found in certain molds, and they can cause gastrointestinal problems, weaken the immune system, damage the kidneys and potentially even cause cancer due to their carcinogenic properties.
Fortunately, the mold veins in blue cheese produce no mycotoxins, thanks to careful processing as the cheese is made, so blue cheese is completely safe for consumption.
Types of Blue Cheese
The best known blue cheese, arguably, is blue Stilton. It is a hard blue cheese as opposed to a soft cheese, so it is used more frequently in salads and other such dishes where it can be crumbled to add an extra, distinct flavoring.
The main types include:
Danish blue: Originally created by a Danish cheese maker (as the name would suggest) in the 1900s, it has since gained popularity internationally. Though it is lower in fat than Stilton, it makes up for it in salt content —
so it should be consumed in moderation.
- Stilton: An English cheese named after the small English town where it originated. Blue Stilton also should be eaten sparingly due to its high fat and salt content. Add it in a crumbled form over a salad or with some fruit as an appetizer or dessert.
Roquefort: Roquefort, from France, is particularly strong in flavor (even by blue cheese standards) thanks to its exceedingly high salt content. In fact, some forms of Roquefort have a higher salt content than salt water —
so, as with most blue cheeses, it should be eaten sparingly and in moderation.
Blue Cheese Health Benefits
There is much debate regarding the health benefits of blue cheese, and indeed cheese and dairy products in general, but certain studies have demonstrated evidence to suggest it may provide the body with benefits that are not yet fully understood.
For example, the "French paradox" questions how France, a country where people consume wine and cheese in large quantities, also has some of the lowest global rates of cardiovascular illness. It leads some experts to believe that cheese actually helps to reduce the likelihood of contracting heart disease, as opposed to causing it.
A December 2012 study published in the journal Medical Hypotheses found that blue cheeses in particular — because of the distinct veins of mold that run through it and the bacteria cultures it contains — are beneficial in reducing the chance of cardiovascular disease thanks to the secondary metabolites found in Penicillium roqueforti. Roquefort is considered the most beneficial cheese for heart health.
Furthermore, a November 2014 study published in the_ Journal of Applied Microbiology demonstrated the sheer chemical diversity found in _Penicillium roqueforti and the role it plays in helping the production of high-value molecules that benefit the human body. Blue cheese is veined with Penicillium roqueforti, so eating it may aid in the process of molecule production.
Read more: The 14 Best Foods for Your Heart
Blue Cheese Nutrition Facts
According to Nutritional Value, a 100-gram serving of blue cheese contains a variety of beneficial vitamins and minerals.
In particular, a 100-gram serving provides 20 percent of the recommended intake of vitamin B12; 8 percent of the daily recommendation of vitamin B6; 53 percent of the recommended intake of calcium; 42 percent of the recommended intake of protein.
Based on this information alone, blue cheese nutrition appears to be beneficial. Unfortunately, this is not all that blue cheese provides.
In addition to the vitamins and minerals, a serving of 100 grams also provides 45 percent of the daily recommendation of fat, an enormous 95 percent of saturated fat, 25 percent of daily cholesterol and 50 percent of daily sodium. To look at the vitamin content alone would be to portray blue cheese as positively healthy, but when its fat, salt and cholesterol are considered, a very different picture is portrayed.
More specific blue cheese nutrition:
- Danish blue: 20.5 grams of protein, 28.9 grams of fat, 19.1 grams of saturated fat, 1,220 milligrams of sodium and 488 milligrams of calcium
- Roquefort: 19.7 grams of protein, 32.9 grams of fat, 20.7 grams saturated fat, 1,670 milligrams of sodium and 530 milligrams of calcium
Potential Health Benefits of Cheese
Cheese sometimes has a bad reputation, but it can genuinely be beneficial if consumed the right way. Moderation is the key to cheese consumption, because of its high fat and salt contents (particularly in cheeses such as blue Roquefort). A matchbox-size amount of cheese provides approximately one-fifth of an adult's daily recommended amount of protein, according to Eufic.
In addition to its high calcium content, cheese is also rich in vitamin A, vitamin B2, niacin and vitamin D, as well as beneficial minerals such as zinc and phosphorous, all of which contribute to many of the body's functions and overall health.
Harder cheeses, such as blue Stilton, have higher amounts of these vitamins and minerals but are also higher in fats and salt, so moderation is still advised.
Risks Associated With Eating Excessive Cheese
The high levels of fats, salts and cholesterol cheese contains should not be ignored simply because it also has many vitamins and minerals. Unfortunately, the pros do not outweigh the cons when it comes to cheese.
The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine explains that the high fat and salt content found in cheese is a contributing factor to the likelihood of heart disease and prostate cancer. If an individual is lactose intolerant and continues to eat cheese, she increases her likelihood of developing lung, breast and ovarian cancer.
Furthermore, the calcium found in dairy products such as milk and dairy may not even have a beneficial effect on the skeleton. A 2013 study published in the British Medical Journal and a January 2014 study published in the Journal of JAMA Pediatrics both found that dietary calcium may not be as beneficial as often advertised.
- Cheese Science Toolkit: "Penicillium roqueforti"
- International Dairy Foods Association: "Types of Cheeses"
- British Heart Foundation: "Cheese: the Good, the Bad, the Ugly"
- Wiley Online Library: Journal of Applied Microbiology: "Penicillium Roqueforti: A Multifunctional Cell Factory of High Value‐Added Molecules"
- Nutritional Value: "Cheese, Blue"
- Eufic: "Cheese: A European Tradition"
- Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine: "Health Concerns About Dairy"
- National Library of Medicine: British Medical Journal: "Calcium Intake and Risk of Fracture: Systematic Review"
- National Library of Medicine: Journal of JAMA Pediatrics: "Milk Consumption During Teenage Years and Risk of Hip Fractures in Older Adults"
- Medical Hypotheses: "Could Cheese Be the Missing Piece in the French Paradox Puzzle?"