Status: 17.05.2024 10:53 a.m. | from North German Broadcasting logo

Cheese provides important nutrients such as proteins, calcium and vitamins. But it is also high in calories and often contains a lot of saturated fat and salt. The type of cheese and the amount are crucial.

by Nadine Becker

On average, every German eats almost 24 kilograms of cheese per year. Whether on bread, as a snack or to top oven dishes – cheese is popular and, in moderation, healthy. It can support muscle building, strengthen teeth and bones and support our microbiome. But according to the German Nutrition Society (DGE), more than two slices per day are not recommended.

Lots of protein in mozzarella, cottage cheese and feta

Cheese contains a lot of valuable proteins. That’s why it’s also popular with athletes, because a protein-rich diet is healthy and promotes muscle building. If you want to consume proteins through cheese, the best options are mozzarella, feta and cottage cheese. They are low in calories and particularly high in protein. But the food also contains other important nutrients such as calcium and vitamins A and B.

Emmental cheese is rich in calcium

Calcium can help strengthen bones and teeth, it is important for the transmission of stimuli in our nervous system and muscles and keeps our cell walls stable. Emmental cheese, for example, is particularly rich in calcium. Just two slices of it cover the recommended daily amount of the mineral. But Parmesan and Gouda are also rich in calcium.

Lots of vitamin B2 in ricotta, camembert, mountain cheese and emmental

In terms of vitamins, cheese contains mainly vitamin A and vitamins B2, B5 and B12. Milk and milk products such as cheese are the main source of vitamin B2, also known as riboflavin, in this country. The vitamin is important for cell function, but also for growth and development. In the body, it is involved in numerous metabolic processes as a component of enzymes. Whey cheese such as ricotta, Camembert, mountain cheese and Emmental contains particularly high levels of riboflavin. It is estimated that up to 20 percent of older people in Europe suffer from a deficiency of this vitamin. Vitamin B5, also known as pantothenic acid, is found mainly in soft cheese. Like riboflavin, it is involved in many metabolic processes in the body.

High fat content, lots of calories and salt

Despite the many healthy ingredients, cheese should be eaten in moderation because it is high in fat. It is also often high in calories and contains a lot of salt. However, this is not the case for all types of cheese, so it is worth comparing the different types of cheese in terms of their nutritional value and salt content.

Lots of salt in feta, gouda and parmesan

High salt consumption promotes cardiovascular problems such as the development of high blood pressure and should therefore be avoided. The salt content of blue cheese and cheeses matured in brine such as feta is particularly high. Cheeses that have been matured for a long time such as parmesan and gouda also contain relatively high amounts of salt. Conscious consumption as a luxury item is recommended here.

Crystals in cheese: Not salt, but amino acid tyrosine

Cheese lovers are familiar with the phenomenon: in some cheeses, especially older ones, there are small white crystal-like dots. However, these are not salt crystals, as is often assumed, but so-called tyrosine crystals. Tyrosine is an amino acid, i.e. a building block of proteins. During the ripening process of cheese, these proteins are broken down. This can release individual amino acids such as tyrosine. Under certain conditions, tyrosine has a tendency to crystallize and small, white crystals form in the cheese. These can be eaten without hesitation. The same phenomenon also occurs with air-dried ham. Tyrosine is the starting substance for the formation of important hormones in the body, such as thyroid hormones, dopamine, adrenaline and melanin. The intake of tyrosine is said to be beneficial for memory, particularly in cases of stress and fatigue.

Camembert, mountain cheese and cheddar contain a lot of fat

It is also worth taking a closer look at the fat content. Cheese usually contains a lot of fat. This includes both healthy unsaturated fatty acids and the much less healthy saturated fatty acids. The latter have a negative effect on cholesterol levels, increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and promote inflammation in the body. Cheeses that are high in fat and therefore high in calories include Camembert, butter cheese, Gouda, Gorgonzola, mountain cheese, cheddar and parmesan.

Low-fat alternative: Harzer cheese and co.

Mozzarella, feta and especially so-called sour milk cheese are low in fat. The latter are made from skimmed milk, which is first processed into sour milk curd – hence the name. The fat content in the dry matter is less than ten percent, so they are low-fat cheeses. Representatives of this category are Harzer cheese, Mainzer cheese, hand cheese and basket cheese.

Fat in dry matter – detect the fat content of cheese

Unlike other foods, cheese always has its fat content in dry matter. This is abbreviated to “Fat in dry matter” on the packaging. The value indicates how much fat the cheese contains if all the liquid were removed and is used to classify cheese into different fat categories, such as low-fat, semi-fat, cream and double-fat. However, the fat content in dry matter is higher than the actual absolute fat content in the cheese, because the latter depends on the water content of the cheese in question. The absolute fat content can be calculated by multiplying the “Fat in dry matter” value by 0.3 to 0.7, depending on the type of cheese (cream cheese x 0.3; hard cheese x 0.7). However, it is easier to look at the absolute fat content in the nutritional table on the back.

Recommendation: Maximum two slices of cheese per day

In 2024, the German Nutrition Society (DGE) published new nutritional recommendations and also adjusted the recommendation for cheese consumption in Germany. It currently recommends a maximum of two portions of milk or dairy products per day. This corresponds to 500 grams of milk or around 50 to 60 grams of cheese. Since a normally cut slice of cheese weighs around 30 grams, this corresponds to a maximum of two slices of cheese per day if no other dairy products are consumed. This takes into account both the fat, salt and calorie content, as well as the ecological footprint of the food, because the CO2 balance of cheese production is poor and cheese is therefore not very climate-friendly.

Raw milk cheese is beneficial for microbiome

Cheese made from pasteurized milk is frowned upon by cheese lovers. The accusation is that pasteurized cheese is “dead” and has nothing to do with the original craft product and cultural asset that is cheese. This refers to the ultra-high heating of milk before cheese is made from it – so-called pasteurization. The milk is heated to over 72 degrees Celsius for a short time (15 seconds to a few minutes). This kills microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi in the natural product. This makes the milk last longer and prevents the transmission of potentially pathogenic germs. However, the process also kills all naturally occurring, non-pathogenic microorganisms, such as lactic acid bacteria. This also means that the positive effect of cheese on the intestinal microbiome, the bacterial colonization of our intestines, is lost. This is positively influenced and more diverse by raw milk cheese. A healthy microbiome is important for our immune system, protects against allergies, stimulates intestinal movement and is central to regular bowel movements.

No raw milk cheese during pregnancy

Raw milk cheese should not be consumed during pregnancy, as it can transmit potentially pathogenic germs to both mother and child. These include listeria, for example. These are bacteria that can cause what is known as listeriosis. People with healthy immune systems rarely become ill through contact with the bacteria. However, pregnant women are at an increased risk of becoming ill, and the bacteria could also be transmitted to the child. This can lead to miscarriages, premature births, or stillbirths, or to an infection in the newborn with serious consequences such as pneumonia, meningitis, or blood poisoning.

Cheese made from raw milk is always labelled

If a cheese is made from raw milk, this must be stated on the product. If there is no special note saying “made from raw milk”, the cheese can be consumed by pregnant women without any concerns. Pregnant women should also avoid other types of cheese such as soft cheese, semi-hard blue cheese such as Gorgonzola, cheese with a surface smear such as Munster, Limburger, Handkäse or Tilsiter, as they may also contain pathogenic bacteria.

Which cheese for lactose intolerance?

Even people with lactose intolerance do not have to give up cheese. Cheeses that have been ripened for a particularly long time and hard cheeses can be eaten with almost no worries. As the cheese ripens, the milk sugar in the cheese, lactose, is gradually broken down. The longer the ripening time, the lower the lactose content. Suitable cheeses for people with lactose intolerance are therefore Parmesan, Emmental or Gouda. It is best to test for yourself which types of cheese can be eaten without any problems. It is advisable to always eat dairy products in small portions throughout the day and together with a meal.

Myth or truth: Does cheese really close the stomach?

It’s true: cheese can contribute to the feeling of satiety. When the cheese you have eaten, which is rich in protein and fat, reaches the first section of the small intestine, the enterohormone GIP (Gastric Inhibitory Peptide) is released into the bloodstream. This causes us to feel full via receptors in the central nervous system. Another enterohormone, secretin, is also released. It delays the emptying of the stomach into the small intestine. As a result, the stomach feels fuller, which can also support a feeling of satiety.

Further information

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A lovely spring salad made from lukewarm cauliflower, marinated mozzarella slices and fresh strawberries. Recipe

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NDR Television | Visite | 21.05.2024 20:15