I recently wrote a post reviewing the research around cheese and heart disease, cholesterol, blood pressure, etc. The bottom line was that cheese appears to have a neutral or perhaps slightly positive impact on heart health. People rejoiced in the streets. Cheese was devoured without guilt. Yay!
But, a few people asked, could I be eating too much cheese? How much is too much anyhow?
There’s no hard and fast answer to this question. My rule of thumb is about an ounce (30 grams) a day, give or take a few flakes of grated parmesan, but just like everything food-related, it’s really up to you.
How much do you enjoy it? How much food do you eat overall? A 23 year-old hockey player can eat more in general than a sedentary 73 year-old, and that means more cheese too.
Is heart health especially a priority for you? If so, recall from the previous post that while cheese is okay, it’s not as beneficial as whole plant foods or fish, darnit.
Are you getting five or more servings a day of fruit and veg? What about plant-based protein foods like nuts and seeds, as well as lentils, beans, and other pulses? Most days I hope. Are heart-healthy fats like extra-virgin olive oil and avocado in the mix?
Another way to look at it… does cheese complement those foods for you, or displace them? Variety and balance my friends.
If you think about it and realize you’ve slipped into a habit of having cheese at every meal and snack (and I’ve been there), it migggggght be time to think about some other ways to capture the magic of cheese.
Here are a few ideas that can contribute to better heart health AND are still pretty tasty. I mean they’re not cheese, but hopefully you find a few that sound good nonetheless.
I often suggest cheese as a way to boost the protein in your breakfast. A good-sized (30g/1oz) slice of cheddar will give you almost as much as one egg! (6-7 grams.) Alternatives to both?
- Yogurt (especially Greek, if it’s protein you’re after – just 1/4 cup of it matches that ounce of cheese for protein)
- Peanut butter (2 tbsp)
- Nuts and seeds (about 1/4 cup, with hemp hearts and pumpkin seeds a little higher in protein than the rest)
- Salmon (just an ounce)
(Amounts given are just for protein comparison. If you’re hungrier for more, have more!)
In a sandwich
If your sandwich has meat, fish, or chicken, you might have cheese in there more for flavour vs protein. Instead, how about some…
- Roasted red peppers (from a jar or roast them yourself)
- Hummus or
- Pesto? (I know there’s a little cheese in there, but it’s mostly olive oil and basil)
On a salad, pasta, or other mixed dish
- Olives (High in sodium yes, but so is cheese – chop them so just a few will give you a nice flavour boost)
- Sun-dried tomatoes (See this recipe post where I talk about the sodium content of various sun-dried tomato products.)
- Toasted pine nuts (or again, really any nut or seed that you like!)
- Tahini dressing/sauce (this is one example, but there are lots of mouth-watering combinations out there – if you see nutritional yeast on the ingredient list, you’ll get a more cheesy flavour)
For a snack
- Roasted chickpeas (roast as in this recipe, if you don’t know how)
- Cashew dip (I linked to that one to give you an example – haven’t tried it, but a patient told me last week that she likes it)
- Guacamole (homemade if possible)
- Chocolate spread (like Nutella with less sugar, more creamy cashew butter)
Note that these are not cheese substitutes. I’m not a huge fan of storebought or homemade plant-based cheeses but some people like them, and depending on the ingredients, they can be quite heart healthy. (Read the labels!)
What have I missed?
If you’re not already part of my free Facebook group, the Sweet Spot Heart-Healthy Cooking Club, I’ll link to it here and you can join us.
If you ARE part of it, please chime in – what have I missed? The members of this group never cease to amaze me with their creative culinary flair.
Meanwhile, happy cooking and happy eating!