Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
16 Oct

Would Grok Chow the Cheese Plate?

cheeseIs cheese healthy? I get asked this question a lot, and I do want to preface it by stating that if there were a definitive answer, we’d probably know it by now. I’m not a big dairy advocate, especially not in light of the way so much of it is processed and manipulated to death, but I don’t completely avoid cheese, either. My personal view of cheese is that it’s on the “okay” list. I eat it occasionally, but it’s not a major source of my calories. But let’s consider the issue further. This post is by no means the last word on cheese, but I hope these thoughts will be helpful to you if you’re debating whether or not to keep cheese in your diet. (And I welcome your thoughts as always. Even you vegans.)

There’s no doubt Grok would have devoured a cheese plate. To be fair, Grok would have devoured nearly anything, including Captain Crunch and cupcakes. Food was hard to come by before the advent of agriculture, let alone grocery stores. Humans have been utilizing the milk of mammals outside our own species for at least 8,000 years, and possibly longer than that (probably coinciding with the shift away from nomadic hunter-gatherer societies to our modern grain-based agricultural system). Milk, and its various processed varieties – e.g. sour cream and cheese – surely provided useful fat and protein for old Grok, and it follows that we can benefit as well. Humans haven’t changed significantly since the agricultural transition. However, we know that the human body did not evolve on a grain-based diet; grain was introduced after the final blueprint, as it were, had already evolved. If you can make a case against grains, you can possibly make a case against dairy as well. My personal opinion is that – to be blunt – while humans come with our own milk and don’t “need” the milk of other animals, a little cheese is not something to fret over. Really, my only major concern is the type of cheese you’re eating. You can take any “natural” food and with enough processing, dyes, flavorings, homogenizing and pasteurizing turn a perfectly dense source of fuel into empty calories. Cheese is very high in saturated fat – again, for me personally, this isn’t a huge nutritional concern – but the major issue I would caution you to consider is the heavy processing most modern day “cheese” goes through.

There’s a good amount of debate about the superiority of some cheeses vs. others. Those who follow Atkins or very high fat diets will actually go for the higher fat triple creams such as brie (I’m making myself hungry here). Others recommend only sparing amounts of aged cheese for flavor. In general I would say stay away from the processed and reduced-fat varieties and go for either raw or minimally-processed cheeses. There are plenty of raw producers now, if you do a little web searching. It’s wise to check out the facilities of the raw dairy farm if you can; though raw dairy, and cheese, is richer in nutrition by far than the pasteurized stuff, cleanliness is paramount. As for minimally processed cheeses, many European favorites fit that bill. I personally enjoy a little manchego or feta from time to time, but I’m just not a big cheese guy. Further, I really recommend yogurts and kefir over cheese. The former are fermented and highly nutritious, while the latter is processed in a way that increases acidity. Now THAT gets us into pretty interesting territory, and I think another post is warranted after you jump in.

The only other major issue here is the digestion factor, which brings us back round to our evolutionary history. Not everyone produces lactase, the enzyme necessary to digest lactose, a sugar in milk. The benefit of cheese is that it is fairly low in lactose in comparison to milk, so for die-hard dairy lovers or vegetarians, cheese may be a reasonable choice. What I don’t recommend is relying on cheese for your calcium needs or loading up your kids with it (although I think raw is probably just fine). You don’t “need” cheese. Remember, bone health is about so much more than calcium. You need a whole host of vital minerals, some of which Americans are shockingly deficient in. Moreover, reasonable sun exposure and frequent weight-bearing activity are just as important to bone health as calcium.

Those are my thoughts. What are yours?

Further Reading:

Which Fork Is for the Grubs?

What I Eat in a Day

Why Veganism Is Unhealthy

Tiarafoto Photo

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Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. I don’t know if cheese is healthy but I love so much!!!!

    billy wrote on October 16th, 2007
  2. The bad news is that the cheese I eat is processed but the good news is that I eat very little of it. My breakfast at work is two eggs on Canadian bacon with just a little shredded mozzarella (from a bag) on top. I’ll also have a little cottage cheese with fruit two or three times a week as an evening snack. I’ve been trying to find Greek yogurt here without luck. Our local Sun Harvest which was bought out by Wild Oats which was bought out by Whole Foods used to carry it; however, they dropped it before I got a chance to try it. I would like to try that as a substitute for the cottage cheese.

    Dave C. wrote on October 16th, 2007
    • I am pro dairy when it is raw dairy and un-processed. But I totally agree with Mark, what is typically sold as “cheese” just ain’t cheese folks and it still is more a “flavor enhancer” than a caloric staple, and raw goat-milk keifer is a great probiotic :)

      Lindsay wrote on June 15th, 2009
  3. Bottom cheese line for me… “A flavor enhancer”

    Every now and then some feta in my salad. (Or in my tomato, cucumber and feta salad.)
    Last night I made a ratatouille with zucchini, yellow squash and red pepper and a splash of tomato sause, to make it extra tasty, I put three small thin slices of fresh mozzarella on top and put it under the broiler.
    I don’t buy the manchego much….because when I do, I eat too many olives and drink too much wine ;-)

    tatsujin wrote on October 17th, 2007
  4. I’m all for the unprocessed cheeses, because they are utterly delicious. And generally, one small piece is enough. Kefir, though, I can drink the whole bottle at once. Mmm.

    Katie wrote on October 17th, 2007
  5. I like your thoughts Mark.

    Dave-sometimes if you ask, a health food store will order it for you. I’m always asking for stuff(win some, lose some). I like fage greek yogurt.

    Crystal wrote on October 17th, 2007
  6. Good word Mark…I concur. I don’t avoid cheese, but it isn’t a major part of my diet either. Sometimes I’ll pick up a small block of some cheese that I love at the farmer’s market from a raw producer, usually their amazing bleu cheese. I then either chop a small slice and eat it alone or crumble some on my salad.

    That said, I also think that dairy is not necessary. Dairy is only “necessary” because people are convinced they need the calcium, yet Americans consume the most (or nearly the most) dairy in the world and have one of the highest rates of osteoporosis…something doesn’t compute. I think our nutrition advisers missed the day they taught acid-base balance and that magnesium and vitamin D are necessary for bone health, along with load-bearing activity.

    My order of preference is no dairy, then raw dairy, and finally pasteurized dairy. Although pasteurized doesn’t have much nutrition remaining.

    Cheers
    Scott Kustes
    Modern Forager

    Scott Kustes wrote on October 17th, 2007
  7. Crystal:

    Thanks! Fage is what the store used to carry. I think that there is a large supermarket cross town that might have it–I’m going to try and hit it this weekend.

    Dave C. wrote on October 18th, 2007
    • I’m finding Greek yogurt at all mainstream grocery stores these days, even Walmart!

      Adriana wrote on March 1st, 2010
  8. Personally a glass of Bordeaux with kefir does not appeal much ;-)

    But on that note, as Mark says, most of what masquerades as cheese these days doesn’t go well with fine red wine either.

    As with wine(and EVOO and balsamic vinegar), cheese made the right way should cost much more than cheese made the wrong way. So compare the price per pound of a bag of Kraft shredded to Widmer’s 6-year aged cheddar and you’ll see what I mean. The taste will also be an indicator in comparing the two – why does anyone even LIKE the taste of that crappy kind of cheese on their food?

    And that last paragraph will ensure that you don’t eat too much of it anyway…

    Brian A wrote on January 25th, 2008
  9. Let me just say I love cheese. I get my cheese from a farmer down the road. They use raw milk from grass fed cows. If you want they will let you sit and watch them make the cheese. I eat a lot less cheese now that I am on a paleo diet.

    Mike D wrote on March 4th, 2008
  10. How many of you who advocate consumption of cow-milk-derived foods would drink the breast milk of the nursing human mother who perhaps lives next door to you or even in your own home? Probably none. And yet, you eat and drink foods derived from the breast milk of a four-legged, cloven-hoofed, snot-nosed, stupid animal that couldn’t recognize you if you played kick-the-can with it every evening at seven for ten years. Why do you want to drink milk designed to nourish the young of an animal like that?

    Cows have tails: If you want to drink milk, drink it from you own species! KEW

    KEW wrote on May 1st, 2009
    • In Papau New Guinea a villager was nursing a baby monkey that had been orphaned or disowned. When we mentioned that would be very strange in North America. The villager repeated our comments back to us, to them, it is very strange that we feed our babies milk from a cow.

      Kenny wrote on October 23rd, 2011
    • I think the Maasai of Eastern Africa would disagree with you. Their traditional diet is: cow (or goat) milk, blood, and sometimes meat. They have been living quite well like this for thousands of years. Modern society has brought maize and other grains into the equation. Be interesting to see how they fair.

      Jane wrote on August 30th, 2012
    • How many of you advocates of meat consumption would eat the thigh muscle of the soccer mom who lives down the road. Obviously hyperbolic but you get my point.

      Hal wrote on June 29th, 2014
  11. Kew you are not quite right, cows definitely recognise people, which is why some get shat on every time they try to milk them and others, get walked up to for a scratch please. I guess being on grass they can feel your vibes man… And mostly it is by the noise you make and the way you move.
    You are not allowed to sell unpasterised milk in NZ, (but most herds are 90%+ grass fed), so the only ones who get it are people like me who drink full cream milk directly from their own Mrs Moo herself.

    Jacqui wrote on August 4th, 2009
    • Jacqui: You have your own Mrs. Moo? I’ve never met anyone before who had their own Mrs. Moo!

      But wouldn’t you agree that it’s a bit strange to drink the breast milk of a four-legged creature? Don’t you think that’s weird? I do…

      But!

      I like cheesecake. =) Plain is best.

      And sometimes I put Moo Milk (half&half specifically) in my Tall Decaf Triple Shot Cafe Americano. But that’s only because…

      The coffee shops in the States don’t serve Coconut Milk…

      Yet.

      I’m working on that. KEW

      P.S. It’s highly appealing that 90% of Moo Moos in NZ are fed a natural diet of grass. Maybe I should move there.

      KEW wrote on August 4th, 2009
      • You are using words that are supposed to gross people out but are meaningless. Have you ever considered carving up your neighbor or your wife? Boiling her tongue and serving it on a platter? Heh. I didn’t think so.

        Kate Yoak wrote on July 24th, 2010
        • >> I like this way of looking at it best. Gross-out advocacy doesn’t really sway.

          Cynthia wrote on October 29th, 2012
  12. well drinking the breast milk of another creature is not all that weird. It makes sense that when humans discovered they could drink the milk of another species they did it, because in paleo times we tried to get the maximum amount of calories with the least effort. Plus milking cows and consuming the milk as opposed to killing it and eating the meat, means you can get more food per cow.

    Although, farming grain may also mean easier access to calories, but obv that is not healthy.

    so is eating raw dairy healthy?

    I think it’s MUCH better than grain because it’s an animal food, when fermented it has few carbs, and milk from grassfed animals has all sorts of good stuff like that found in the animal’s body fat such as vitamins A and D, CLA, etc.

    So I consume raw dairy occasionally mostly in the form of raw butter or ghee, as that’s where the good stuff is!

    Reamz wrote on August 23rd, 2009
  13. To my knowledge, vitamin D doesn’t occur naturally in milk. And it contains only 7% vitamin A. A serving of kale contains over 300% vitamin A.

    The trouble with moo milk is that it tastes so good! It’s hard to resist sometimes. Fortunately, I’m getting much better at using coconut milk instead.

    KEW wrote on August 23rd, 2009
    • Are you speaking about raw milk? And the amount of D in a serving of kale doesn’t mean it’s necessarily bio-available. Lots of vegetables do not release their vitamins without some kind of animal fat like butter.

      Lindsay wrote on October 21st, 2009
      • Hi Lindsay,

        Kale doesn’t contain Vitamin D. There are very few foods in which Vitamin D occurs naturally. The only foods that I’m aware of are certain fish.

        KEW wrote on October 22nd, 2009
  14. Mushrooms are =capable= of developing a content of Vitamin D. Whether the ones in your salad actually do, depends on how they were cultivated.

    Al wrote on April 2nd, 2010
  15. Don’t get me wrong, I support this diet, but you do a discredit to yourself by implying that humans have stopped evolving.

    Jacks wrote on May 20th, 2010
    • Sorry… have to say something to this. Not trying to be mean, so don’t take it that way. Humans *are* evolving. But if it is going to take say 2,000 to 20,000 years to change our genetic structure to accommodate a diet loaded with grains and dairy, but in the mean time every person on the planet has some problems with some if not all of these products, then where is the sense in eating those foods *today*? So that future generations may have the chance? You have to eat what’s right for you today, not for people you’ll never even meet. Just sayin’.

      Dune wrote on January 11th, 2011
  16. I lived in Tibet for almost a year, where the yak is the source of almost all calories. Meat is certainly a large portion of that, but all the normal derivatives of yak milk are also important: yak butter, oil, milk, it’s all vital to the Tibetan diet.

    Now don’t get me wrong, no one will be traveling to Tibet for the cuisine anytime soon, but I think most humans around the world have evolved to tolerate some degree of dairy.

    As you said, it’s the dairy of the US agri-industry that is usually what people should stay away from.

    Chris wrote on July 7th, 2010
  17. My family would not be happy without cheese. I serve my children scrambled eggs with cheese for breakfast 3-5 times per week. Its very primal and and miles better for them then the cereals almost all their peers eat. The shame is their peers parents have been so brainwashed by the US food industry that they believe eggs = bad & cereal = good. I used to have my doubts about milk products but after reading Weston Price I came around.

    crossbow guy wrote on July 25th, 2010
  18. As a dweller in Paris, France cheese is a part of our daily (if not every-other-day) eating routine. If you look at French people’s general way of living it hasn’t evolved much. Tomorrow there will be a transport strike, so most people will pull out their bikes and pedal to work (or walk).

    But back to cheese, I don’t know how much cheese you all have but the harder the cheese is the longer it has aged. It can be really good to step out of the grocery to a local farmer and get some cheese there (in DC, the Cowgirl Creamery in Chinatown: in NYC there’s Murray’s cheese and wherever there is a Whole Foods they have a selection of world cheeses with pretty knowledgeable staff). The only thing I might suggest is that the harder cheeses are easier to consume with no bread so I might recommend them.

    Amandine wrote on September 6th, 2010
  19. i LOVE cheese, glorious cheese. can’t live without it. but i try to only eat grassfed organic raw cheese, preferably local. if i’m making a casserole though, i’ll use pasteurized organic grassfed.

    hyesun wrote on September 23rd, 2010
  20. Cheese doesn’t offer any Grok-necessary cheese-specific nutrients. We obviously don’t need cheese, or we wouldn’t be here. A bit of cheese used as a garnish is fine, as is almost any food. I don’t get the point of all this. I suppose the first line is “Is cheese healthy?”

    Well, how do you measure healthy? If you measure the weight ratio of absorbed nutrition to nutritionless filler and taste, then hell no it’s not. If you measure healthy by whether or not it’ll kill you, sure it’s healthy. If you measure healthy by whether or not you should eat it, my opinion is that no you shouldn’t. Again, you can gain every nutritional benefit of cheese from other less-modified food sources.

    I sure do love cheese, though. I’m sure most everyone does, which is probably why there are thousands of articles like this with hopeful readers looking for an excuse to eat it.

    Common Sense wrote on January 6th, 2011
  21. Newbie here. I was at a long, leisurely dinner with a girlfriend last night. Since I’m avoiding alcohol for a while until I get my grain/sugar situation on lock-down, when it came to dessert, I figured I’d have some nothing. But then the cheese and chocolate menu came—I was able to get a small sampling of three raw cheeses, one cow, one sheep and one goat. ANd yes, I did indulge in the dairy. Heaven! I wouldn’t do it everyday, but it seemed like a marvelous primal compromise for a nice evening out.

    Mox wrote on February 12th, 2011
  22. Tried my hand at soft cheeses in the early ’90s, the hotter,the harder. Cheese & butter,along with yoghurt, were the pre-refrigeration means of storing all of that milk one got from herds, horse & reindeer can be added to the list. Juustoleipa { reindeer cheese}

    Raven_Glance wrote on February 12th, 2011
  23. well it’s not raw food- its a preserve and preserves take some getting used to. maybe Grok would have behaved somewhat like the Chinese people who had never eaten the dairy stuff who were on the train with my girlfriend from HK. They smiled chatted and began swapping snacks. Now if you have ever tried new food and met some of the preserved things asians like to snack on like umeboshi plums you can imagine the tentative sniffing, then spitting and gagging and laughing that followed. She shared her cheese which produced pretty much the same result – phtooey!

    carolyn wrote on March 23rd, 2011
  24. Hi Mark. Firstly I would apologise if I’m posting this question at an unrelated article. It’s regarding pasteurized dairy (specifically ghee) as a cooking fat and fats non-grass-fed meat. In my country, it is near impossible to get raw, grass-fed dairy. So what we get here is non-grass-fed, pasteurized butter and ghee. Would these still be good fats to cook with (it’s a given that they are definitely better than canola oil and its like)? Also, I’ve come across somewhere where you mentioned regarding cooking with the leftover fat of meats. I assume you are talking about grass-fed ones? So if it’s not grass fed we have to trim away the fat i.e.unhealthy? I’m relatively new to your website but have found it very insightful. Definitely foes against Conventional ‘Wisdom’. Thanks in advance!

    Mohammad wrote on July 17th, 2011
    • I mean ‘goes’. Although ‘foes against Conventional ‘Wisdom” would still be acceptable to you, wouldn’t it? Lol.

      Mohammad wrote on July 17th, 2011
  25. I love cheese but since I do not have the means to buy raw kinds I will stick to the only dairy I consume being kefir witch is glucose and 99 percent lactose free if that makes a difference?

    ayasha wrote on September 8th, 2011
  26. Sort of a random question, and I know this is an old post… but what about human milk? Is it ok for me to drink my own breastmilk, or sub it in recipes that call for milk in small quantities?

    Marie wrote on January 10th, 2012
  27. So, If I were grocery shopping and bought cheese, I would avoid anything pre-sliced, because that’s most likely to be furthest from it’s raw state, right?

    Jayanne wrote on October 10th, 2012
  28. What do you think of homemade cheese? I’ve not seen cottage cheese on your lists, and wonder if it could be okay cos you can control what goes not making it.

    Sandy wrote on February 2nd, 2013
  29. Goes INTO. Damn autocorrect. :)

    Sandy wrote on February 2nd, 2013
  30. i like Kefir. i’m pretty sure if we could ferment rocks, we could eat it and it would be healthy. xD

    Chase wrote on January 4th, 2014

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