Can people with diabetes eat cheese? The answer in many cases is yes. This delicious, calcium-rich food contains many nutritional properties that make it a healthy part of a balanced diet.
Of course, there are some precautions to keep in mind. Read on to find out what people with diabetes need to know about eating cheese.
Benefits of cheese for people with diabetes
Cheese can help maintain healthy glucose levels
People with diabetes must consider the glycemic content of various foods. This is based on how quickly the body is able to digest the carbohydrates in those foods. The glycemic index (GI) is a 100-point scale that rates foods based on how rapidly they cause blood sugar to rise. Foods are given a higher value the more rapid the rise in blood sugar.
Most cheeses contain little to no carbohydrates and thus rate very low on the GI scale. Some cheeses, however, have more than others. For example, cheddar cheese contains just 0.4 grams of carbohydrates per 1 ounce, while Swiss cheese contains 1.5 grams of carbohydrates per 1 ounce. So it’s important to check the nutritional label on various cheeses.
Cheese is protein-rich
Cheese is generally high in protein, which is great to help balance out the blood sugar spikes that occur when eating carbohydrates alone. When eaten together, they take longer to burn off. Protein also helps people feel full longer, thus reducing cravings for other unhealthy foods.
The amount of protein varies depending on the type of cheese. For example, 1 ounce of parmesan contains 10 grams of protein, while cheddar contains 7 grams of protein. Cottage cheese has less than 3 grams per 1 ounce.
Cheese may lower the risk of developing type 2 diabetes
At least one study has shown that cheese may lower a person’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes in the first place. The 2012 study found that eating about two slices per day (about 55 grams) reduced the risk of diabetes by 12 percent. However, this should be taken with some caution as the difference in risk varied depending on the country. Researchers have said the findings need further study.
Risks of cheese for people with diabetes
For all the benefits, there are certainly some dietary yellow flags, and cheese shouldn’t be consumed with abandon. Some things to keep in mind when eating cheese include:
Cheese is high in fat and calories
Studies have shown that as far as reducing one’s risk for cardiovascular disease, dairy fat isn’t the best choice. While dairy fat can be eaten in moderation, unsaturated fats from vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, avocados, and some fish are healthier choices. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends that less than 10 percent of your daily calories should come from saturated fats.
Cheese is also high in calories, so portion control is important. For example, 1 ounce of cheddar cheese has 113 calories. Reduced and nonfat cheeses may be healthier options.
Dairy allergies or intolerances
Not everyone can tolerate dairy, and some people are allergic to it. Fortunately, there are plenty of other foods, such as nuts, that provide many of the same and even additional nutritional benefits as cheese.
There are also dairy-free cheese options, though they typically contain less protein. For example, one slice of a vegan cheddar single contains just 1 gram of protein.
Watch out for the sodium
People with diabetes need to limit sodium, as it can elevate blood pressure and lead to cardiovascular problems. Some cheeses are higher in sodium than others. For example, feta cheese has 316 milligrams of sodium in 1 ounce, while mozzarella has just 4 milligrams of sodium per ounce. You should check labels and choose low-sodium options when possible.
The USDA recommends that adults and children over 13 limit sodium to less than 2,300 milligrams per day.
How to eat cheese
The best cheeses to choose are those that are natural with lower fat content, lower sodium, and as much protein as possible. Processed cheeses, which are typically higher in sodium and fat, should be avoided. Other higher sodium cheeses include feta and Edam, while those such as mozzarella and Emmental have less.
Because cheese has little impact on your glucose, it’s a great food to pair with higher GI foods to balance them out. Snacks such as an apple with cheese or a mini pizza made with a whole grain bread, fresh vegetables, and mozzarella cheese are good choices.
While it’s easy to eat a lot of cheese in one sitting, it’s best to limit the quantity. A typical serving size is 1.5 ounces of natural cheese or 2 ounces of processed cheese.
Cheese can be incorporated into a healthy diet if you have diabetes. However, it should be eaten in moderation and in combination with other healthy foods.