As someone who ate a shitload of pizza for dinner last night, waking up to this story was a sigh of relief: WIRED reports that despite its fat-heavy properties, cheese is, in fact, not bad for you.
Cheese may cause lactose intolerance aside, but it isn’t associated with weight gain. A 2011 paper published in the New England Journal of Medicine, analyzed three cohort studies that kept track of 120,877 American adults over multiple decades. Potatoes, processed meats, and refined grains were associated with weight gain over time (everyone who loves burgers and fries is booing right now), while yogurt, fruit, and nuts correlated with weight loss. Cheese stood alone right in the middle, meaning, eating more or less of it really didn’t seem to affect people’s weight.
Okay, so that was from 2011. Have we learned anything in the past decade? Well, a more recent study from 2018 of 2,512 men in Wales showed something else. It found that there was a mild inverse relationship between eating cheese and body mass after five years, suggesting that cheese and weight loss are associated, though this effect fades away after 10 years. According to WIRED:
“There’s almost no evidence that cheese causes weight gain—and in fact, there’s evidence that it’s neutral at worst,” says Dariush Mozaffarian, the lead author of the 2011 paper and dean of the Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy. “There’s no evidence that cheese is linked to cardiovascular disease, and in some studies, it’s even a little bit associated with lower risk. And then, for diabetes, again, it’s at worst neutral, and maybe protective.”
Thanks to the work done by writers Michael Pollan and Gary Taube, we’re seeing that added sugars, refined carbohydrates, and processed foods are more to blame for weight gain than, say, calorie-dense foods like cheese and nuts. Many of the earlier studies that blamed cheese for weight gain were studying cheese that was eaten on pepperoni pizza or in sandwiches with processed white bread, not cheese eaten on its own.
Yes! Yes! yes!! yes!!! I probably eat some form of cheese every day. Because of this news, I will eat not one, but two Babybel cheeses for a snack!
The WIRED piece does go on to explain, however, that weight gain and loss is a pretty complicated situation that differs from person to person. We also process calories from, say, cake differently than we process them from a healthier food like fish. Take a look at the full article if you’re interested, because when it comes down to it, weight and metabolism are complicated systems that are worth learning about. But for now, we don’t have to feel guilty about making cheese a regular part of our diet.