How Much Cheese Should You Eat?

It’s such an American, and nutrition-based, solution to a problem. Change the food, not the habits.

Here’s the situation:

Americans are under pressure to reduce consumption of sodium and saturated fats.
But, Americans like to eat cheese.
And, cheese is loaded with sodium and saturated fat. In fact, cheese is the single largest source of saturated fat in the American diet. (Read more about sat fat from the Harvard School of Public Health.)
So, instead of changing our habits, we’re trying to change the cheese.

According to The New York Times, cheese manufacturers are busy looking for ways to make palatable low salt, low fat cheese.

I guess palatable is the problem.

“When you take a lot of the fat out, essentially cheese will turn into an eraser.”— Gregory D. Miller, president of the Dairy Research Institute.

“If you really want to make bad cheese, make a low-fat, low-sodium one.” — Lloyd Metzger, professor of dairy science at South Dakota State University.

Source: The New York Times

Read The New York Times article.

How are cheese manufacturers “fixing” their food?

One technique relies upon centrifuges to spin off the fat, turning cheddar cheese into cheddar cheese product.

Yes, this is what America needs: MORE PROCESSED FOOD.

I can understand cheese manufacturers wanting to preserve their product’s place in the American diet.

The American cheese industry produces more than 10 billion pounds of cheese each year.

That’s a lot of cheese.

And I understand people wanting a “healthier” cheese. We LOVE cheese.

So it’s understandable that we want to have our cheese and eat it too. (Sorry, I know that joke is cheesy. That joke is too!)

Replacing cheese with an inferior tasting, more highly processed product, just so we can eat as much cheese as we want, is simply the wrong solution.

The idea that we should be able to eat as much as we want of any food is part of our national problem.

And it’s fostered by the nutrition mentality: If it’s nutritious we feel free to go wild. Where are the limits? (Limits seem only to apply to “bad” food. Turn “bad” food into “good” food though…)

This isn’t just a portion size problem. It’s an entitlement problem.

Indeed, we are so committed to the idea that we should be able to eat as much as we want that we are willing to remake food into something it’s not. Cheese is only the latest example.

Our national dialogue focuses so much on what we eat that people have almost forgotten that we have to think about when, why and how much we eat as well.

That’s the beauty of the habits approach. It provide a clear and concise way for people to pack everything they want into their diet, and it does so in a way that works. (Just ask yourself: Is this a habit you want your kids to foster?)

There’s nothing wrong with eating cheese, but I highly recommend that you and your kids eat the real deal—Brie, Camembert, actual Cheddar—in the right amounts and in the right frequency. (Don’t give your kids cheese every day. Read What’s the Problem with Cheese?)

Maybe some people dream of a day when we’ll live in a world where all the “bad” foods will be altered to be nutritionally superior, and then we will be able to eat whatever we want, whenever we want, in whatever quantities we want.

I dream of a day, though, when we start thinking more about habits.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~

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Reader Comments (6)
I agree with your overall point. Personally, I’d rather have really good cheese less often than unlimited quantities of crummy cheese-like substance. But…well, I thought I was doing pretty well limiting my (2.5 yr old) daughter’s cheese intake to just once a day. What IS the right frequency (given that she doesn’t drink milk)? Ideally? Give me a number. I come from a very pro-cheese upbringing, so I have no perspective on this whatsoever.

August 8, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJoannaW

Sorry, I don’t have a specific amount of cheese to recommend. Instead, I would encourage you to think about this from a habits perspective. Ask yourself, how often should a person eat cheese, recognizing that you are establishing your daughter’s cheese-eating habit right now. I would also ask you to think about whether regular cheese makes your daughter resistant to other kinds of foods. If yes, cut back. If no, then once a day is probably ok. (Though I would cut back as she gets older to help establish a better lifelong habit.) Also, how much cheese is she eating each time she eats it, and are you giving her mac/cheese, cheese Goldfish, etc. These all add up. Finally, I would not worry so much about calcium intake. Instead, I would focus on creating a varied diet that includes plenty of fresh foods including items with calcium such as almonds, tofu, beans. Read my post, Don’t Have a Cow for more thoughts on this topic.


August 8, 2012 | Registered CommenterDina Rose
I decided to eliminate all animal products from my diet over 2 years ago. I absolutely loved cheese and I thought it would be the hardest thing to give up. It wasn’t, really. In fact, none of it was hard to give up, when I considered the environmental and ethical problems surrounding a meat and dairy-based diet. I think the key is to replace the cheese with other, high nutrient, food – in essence, to crowd out the undesirable food. It also helped me to learn that cheese is addictive because of the casomorphins contained in milk and concentrated to a high degree in cheese. I don’t like being manipulated. And I loathe the dairy industry pushing their unhealthy products on to everyone. I think that’s where the feelings of entitlement begin – with an industry that feels that it’s okay to brutalize, kill and enslave animals in order to make a product that no one needs and that makes people overweight and unhealthy.

August 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRebecca

This expresses so concisely my problem with the “eat clean” concept. You wrote, “If it’s nutritious we feel free to go wild.”

I’ve known of many, many people who can’t figure out why they’re not losing fat when they are “eating clean.” Somehow they’ve become convinced that portion control is no longer necessary if the food is “healthy.”

I’m glad I found your website!

August 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMary C. Weaver, CSCS
Thanks for this great post – so true!!


August 13, 2012 | Unregistered Commenteredie
Dina, read your Psychology Today article on this, too and so had to pop back in to let you know that yes, your advice has helped. The comparison with potato chips also really put it in perspective as far as what the long-term goal should be. We’ve been cutting back on cheese in all forms, and she hasn’t really objected as much as I thought she would. We’ve been implementing the fresh-fruit-or-veg-at-every-meal-and-every-snack rule, and while she hasn’t really branched out much yet, vegetable-wise, she seems to be accepting it gracefully. Thank you!

August 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJoannaW