The amount of cheese Americans eat each year has more than tripled since the 1970s — from an average of 11 pounds to a whopping 35 pounds a year as of January 2017, according to Harvard Health Publishing. A good source of protein, calcium and phosphorus, cheese may certainly be considered a nutritious food. This doesn't give you license to eat as much cheese as you want, though, because it also contains saturated fat and sodium. In fact, too much cheese in your diet can do you more harm than good.
Excess cheese in your diet can increase your intake of saturated fat and sodium, which can take a toll on your health.
Scary Saturated Fat
One of the primary drawbacks of cheese is that it contains saturated fat. A diet that's too high in saturated fat can cause your cholesterol levels to become elevated. High cholesterol raises your risk of life-threatening health problems such as heart attack and stroke. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests keeping your saturated fat intake to 10 percent or less of your total caloric intake to help prevent heart disease.
Dietary Cholesterol Is Also Problematic
Limiting your intake of dietary cholesterol can help you keep your levels within the normal range. Eating large amounts of cholesterol can lead to cholesterol buildup in your arteries, which raises your risk of stroke and heart disease.
According to the University of Michigan Health Service, you should consume no more than 200 milligrams of dietary cholesterol per day. If you already have high cholesterol, speak with your health care provider to determine how much dietary cholesterol is safe for you to eat.
As examples of cholesterol content in cheese, an ounce of cheddar cheese contains about 28 milligrams of cholesterol, an ounce of mozzarella has 22 milligrams and 1 tablespoon of Parmesan cheese contains 4 milligrams, according to the USDA Food Composition Databases.
Don't Forget the Sodium
Cheese also contains a large amount of sodium, and too much of the salty stuff isn't good for your heart. A diet high in sodium can cause your blood pressure to increase, and when that happens, it leaves you susceptible to heart attack and stroke, according to the American Heart Association. Too much sodium may also raise your risk of kidney disease and osteoporosis.
Note that an ounce of cheddar cheese has 183 milligrams of sodium, which is about 12 percent of the 1,500 milligrams you should limit yourself to each day; a 1-ounce serving of mozzarella contains 138 milligrams of sodium, and a tablespoon of Parmesan cheese has 85 milligrams.
Fitting Cheese Into a Healthy Diet
Eating an ounce of cheese is one way to increase your intake of protein and calcium, but it's best to limit how much you eat to no more than a few ounces a week. If you simply can't reduce your intake of cheese, look for reduced-fat versions, which are lower in saturated fat. But keep in mind that reduced-fat cheeses still contain about the same amount of sodium that full-fat cheeses do. Cutting down on processed foods, eating your pizza or pasta with half the cheese, or having your burger or sandwich without cheese are additional ways to cut your cheese intake.
- USDA National Nutrient Database: Cheese, Cheddar
- USDA National Nutrient Database: Cheese, Mozzarella, Whole Milk
- USDA National Nutrient Database: Cheese, Parmesan, Shredded
- American Heart Association: Get the Scoop on Sodium and Salt
- Harvard Health Publishing: Say Cheese?
- Centers for Disease Control: The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020
- USDA Food Composition Databases
- University of Michigan Health Service: Blood Cholesterol, Blood Lipids and Heart Health