Dear Dr. Blonz, I have a couple of questions about cheese. You have said positive things about cheese in the past, but could you please explain why cheese is good for you? The reason I'm asking is because my husband has a tendency to have high cholesterol, and I try to watch his diet. We have started eating tofu cheese, because it has calcium, but it has no fat or cholesterol. Do you think this is OK? Or are we missing out on some important nutrients by not eating regular cheese? Thanks. F.J., Amarillo, Texas
Dear F.J., There is an amazing variety of cheese available today that can lend flavors, textures and tastes to compliment meals. Couple this with an assortment of nutrients: A one-ounce serving (approximately a one-inch cube) of most types of cheese provides about 25 percent of the daily value for calcium, and also contains phosphorous, vitamin A, B12 and riboflavin. There can be variance among the different types of cheese, so be sure to check the label to verify the nutritional contents of the variety you are considering. Those with lactose intolerance might think they need to stay away from cheese because it is a milk product, but most lactose gets removed along with the liquid whey as the cheese is being made.
As with any calorie-dense food, there is no question that cheese can contribute to high cholesterol or other aspect of poor health if you overdo it or if the background diet to which the cheese is being added is already poor. It is the balance and variety that we eat that gives the body what it needs to remain in good health. Add cheese to a pastry-for-breakfast, fast-food-for-lunch, limited fruit, vegetable and fiber diet, and you are asking for trouble. (You should definitely keep your husband off that road!) But if a variety of wholesome foods with plentiful greens, grains, fruits and fiber make a regular appearance on your plate, cheese becomes a food you can definitely enjoy.
As for tofu cheese, it is true that tofu does not contain cholesterol, but you cannot assume that a cheese made from tofu will be fat free unless it is specially made that way. Anywhere from 30 percent to 55 percent of the calories in traditional tofu will come from fat. Also, soy is not a good source of calcium, but tofu is often made using a calcium salt. You will need to check the label to determine the level of fat and calcium in any particular tofu cheese you would choose.
Send questions to: "On Nutrition," Ed Blonz, c/o Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO, 64106. Send email inquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org. Due to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.