Cheese is a firm favourite in the UK, especially at Christmas when supermarkets tempt us with festive flavours, colourful wax-coated versions or as part of luxury mini hampers.
However cheese has recently hit the headlines following a survey by CASH (Consensus Action on Salt and Health) showing that it can often be high in salt, which if eaten in excess (more than six grams a day for an adult) can raise blood pressure so increasing our risk of a heart attack and stroke.
Cheese is a versatile and tasty food that has its place in a healthy balanced diet, providing calcium, protein and vitamins, but some of us can get a bit ‘cheese crazy’, using it for sandwiches, topping off dishes, rounding off a meal and as a snack.
Many cheeses are high in saturated fat and salt, so get cheese-savvy this Christmas to take the pressure off your arteries. Here are a few simple tips:
Stats – Check the cheese stats by reading the salt content on the label. Sniff out the healthier, less salty options by checking different brands and comparing varieties of cheese.
Cheese in its place – don’t see it as a condiment, treat it as part of a main dish. Try salads with lettuce and spinach topped with grated apple and Roquefort or Wensleydale, or cherry tomatoes, olives and mozzarella or crumbled feta, or vegetable soups with bread and a little cheese. Adapt recipes: use Parmesan which is stronger so you’ll need less and try fromage frais and yoghurt in quiches and cheese sauces with a little Emmental which is lower in salt.
A sensible nibble – enjoy cheese but watch the portions you tuck into. Keep your slices thin and remember a portion is the size of a matchbox. By grating or crumbling cheese finely and choosing stronger flavoured varieties, you won’t need as much to give your taste buds a cheese-kick.
Cheese finale – if you’re going to have cheese as a last course, accompany it with a heart-healthy option like dried fruit, grapes, figs, apple or unsalted nuts. Beware the crackers, cheese biscuits, pickles and chutneys that will load on more salt, fat and sugar.
Most of us like cheese, so let’s take the pressure off our arteries by choosing cheese carefully and being sensible with how many calories, salt and fat we eat over the day and week. With a little cheesy know-how, cheese can still be a part of a heart-healthy, balanced diet both at Christmas and beyond.
For more information and advice about healthy living, contact Heart Research UK via email firstname.lastname@example.org.