Is Cheese Good for You?
It is a great time to be a “health food nut”. Unlike when I first entered the natural healing field, many of the foods we shunned then are now considered healthful. Red wine, chocolate, coffee, and butter, are all back on the map again, and now, maybe it’s time to invite cheese to the party.
As the dairy debate rages, in defense of cheese I offer some pro-cheese material from a new study done on the elderly.
Researchers started with the awareness that excess dietary sodium impairs vascular function, and does so by increasing oxidative stress. So, for some reason (funding by the dairy industry, perhaps?), these scientists decided to test cheese consumption, and its effect on “sodium-induced endothelial dysfunction”.
“We tested the hypothesis that microcirculatory endothelium-dependent dilation (EDD) would be impaired by a high-sodium diet, but a sodium-matched diet high in dairy cheese would preserve EDD through oxidant stress mechanisms.” (Endothelium refers to cells that line the interior surface of blood vessels.)
As you can probably guess by now, “these results demonstrate that incorporating dairy cheese into a high-sodium diet preserves EDD by decreasing the concentration of superoxide radicals.” (Study)
This study provided no explanation as to why cheese might be so protective, but I have an idea.
The type of cheese used in this study was Gouda. This Dutch cheese, named after the city of Gouda in the Netherlands, is one of the most popular cheeses in the world, accounting for 50 to 60% of the world's cheese consumption.
Gouda also happens to be one of the few cheeses high in vitamin K2, due to the type of bacteria used to produce it. That being said, where the cheese is made, and how long the cheese was fermented, makes a big difference in the resulting vitamin K2 content. For example, Gouda made in the Netherlands is much higher in K2 than Gouda made in the U.S.
This difference in K2 levels probably occurs because cows in the Netherlands are more often grass fed. So, to ensure the highest amount of vitamin K2 be present, when purchasing domestic cheese, try to ensure it is from grass fed cows, or is organic (which requires at least 30% of the animal’s diet be from grass).
For good health we need at least 100 - 120 mcg of vitamin K2 (as MK7). One hundred grams (3.5 oz) of Gouda cheese (Dutch) provides about 65mcg K2. Thus, you need 6-8 oz of Gouda daily, to give you an optimal dose of Vitamin K2.
Now, we know that vitamin K2 protects the heart by preventing hardening of the arteries. K2 does this by keeping calcium out of the arteries, and moving it into the skeletal structure, where it belongs. However, that is a long term proposition, and so does not explain the benefits of Gouda in protecting vascular function in the face of sodium damage, after only 8 days (the length of the study). This benefit was attributed to “decreasing the concentration of superoxide radicals”.
Well, as it happens, vitamin K2 also has antioxidant properties. Below is an excerpt from our online material regarding Nutristart’s vitamin K2 product, Quick K2.
Antioxidant Properties of K2
Free radical damage in the body, caused by toxins, radiation, and reactive oxygen molecules, are responsible for cancer, heart disease, inflammatory conditions and premature aging. That vitamin K2 also serves an antioxidant function, over and above its other many functions, makes it an important part of our body’s basic survival mechanisms.
One study subjected test animals to extreme free radical damage, and found that vitamin K2 alone protected their livers from this oxidative stress. Another study showed vitamin K2 to be almost as effective as vitamin E in preventing oxidation of fatty acids, a benchmark of its antioxidant activity. (Vervoort LM, et al. 1997. The potent antioxidant activity of the vitamin K cycle in microsomal lipid peroxidation. Biochem Pharmacol 54:871-6)
Is Cheese for You?
Vitamin K2 is almost exclusively found in animal proteins (dairy and meat from grass fed animals), except for one plant source, that being natto, a fermented soybean product from Japan. While it may seem surprising, all the following foods are virtually free of Vitamin K2: fruits, legumes, lean meats, nuts, seafood, whole grains, vegetables (though, leafy greens contain vitamin K1). (Vitamin K content of foods.) Thus, those on a strict vegetarian or vegan diet (or even a Macrobiotic diet), should consider supplementing with vitamin K2.
For those who are not morally opposed to eating cheese, and who feel they digest dairy products okay, focussing on those cheeses highest in vitamin K2 is the way to get maximum benefit from dairy foods (yogurt and kefir are also beneficial dairy foods, but do not provide K2).
From the Blood Type Diet point of view, dairy is best tolerated by blood types B, and AB. That being said, cheese is essentially free of lactose (the lactose being consumed by bacteria during the fermentation process), and so can be suitable for those who avoid dairy simply due to lactose intolerance. And, organic cheese is the only dairy product allowed to use raw milk, which is more healthful that pasteurized milk, since pasteurization reduces the benefits of dairy foods.
So, if it fits your dietary philosophy, have some cheese (in descending order of vitamin K2 content: Muenster, Jarlsberg, Camembert, Gouda, Edam, Stilton, and Emmental), with red wine, and kick back knowing you are doing your body a service, as well as your taste buds.