Q. Are there any benefits of cheese? I am always told to reduce my cheese intake and would love to hear the good things about cheese especially approaching Shavuot.
A. There are indeed a few health benefits to eating cheese. When enjoyed in moderation, cheese is highly nutritious and contains several essential vitamins for a balanced diet and for the maintenance of many parts of the body.
Let’s begin with dental health. Cheese contains calcium and Vitamin D, which strengthen our teeth and help prevent the wearing down of tooth enamel. Cheese contains barely any milk sugar, therefore it will not affect teeth in the same way as many other milk products. The Vitamin D is also essential for maintaining our bones and cartilage since it helps calcium to be absorbed into the body.
Cheese is also a great source of calcium. Calcium works to maintain strong and healthy bones. One slice of cheese can provide approximately 10 to 20 percent of your recommended calcium (based on a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet). Calcium helps regulate blood pressure, blood-clotting mechanisms and production of digestive enzymes and hormones. Calcium also works with phosphorus for strong bones and teeth.
Cheese is a good source of phosphorus. Phosphorus is important to the production of collagen which is found in our bones, ligaments, joints, tendons, eyes and skin. For those with blood pressure problems I recommend searching for low sodium cheese since cheese can be quite high in sodium. Mozarella and goats cheese usually contain lower levels of sodium. If you are a cheese addict, try to remember that although it has some great benefits, everything in moderation!
Q. Dear Natalie, I am lactose intolerant. Can you recommend any dairy and non dairy substitutes I can try instead which will ensure I am getting enough calcium in my diet?
A. Consuming certain dairy substitutes for those with a lactose intolerance is important to increase protein and calcium intake without the unpleasant symptoms produced by foods that contain lactose. Dairy products in their natural form, including milk, cream, ice cream, cheese, cottage cheese and yogurt, are all rich sources of protein, calcium and several other nutrients.
Since dairy products contain varying amounts of lactose, some lactose intolerant individuals can consume those with lower levels, such as yogurt and hard cheeses, without experiencing digestive symptoms. To be certain that you get the protein and calcium without lactose, you should try the following foods: Soy products such as cheese, yogurt, frozen desserts and milk. The non-dairy alternatives for milk are rice, almonds or hazlenuts – they may provide less protein but can be good substitutes for cooking.
Try to include high calcium foods into your diet. Include vegetables such as broccoli, kale, mustard greens, Chinese cabbage, spinach, turnip greens and calcium enriched fruit juice. There are also many high calcium foods which are also rich in protein, such as tofu, salmon, mackerel, dried peas and beans, almonds and sardines.
Don’t forget that there are many processed foods which contain dairy products such as baked goods, salad dressings, milk chocolate, spaghetti sauces etc, so be sure to read the food labels carefully.
Q. Shalom Natalie, this year I intend to try to stay awake for the tikkun leil Shavuot, (night-long study). Are there any natural alternatives to coffee that you can suggest? Thank You.
A. There are several herbs and teas which provide natural alternatives to caffeine. In addition to energy enhancement, they may also benefit overall wellness. Natural alternatives to caffeine can also provide a similar energy boost when consumed without as many of the long-term effects of regular caffeine intake.
According to the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC), Siberian ginseng is currently credited for benefits toward improving energy, vitality and longevity. Siberian ginseng is often used amongst athletes to enhance athletic performance and cognitive function, similarly to caffeine. You can try Siberian ginseng as a dried root, tea, capsule or in extract form. You will also find it present in many energy-enhancing beverages.
Another beverage you can try is Yerba mate tea, a very popular drink in South America. In addition to increasing energy, it also helps stimulate digestions, burn fat, decrease appetite, clean the blood and fight free radicals.
Finally, I would ensure a good stack of Green Tea at your study table. Green tea, whether caffeinated or not, may provide uplifting sensations, similar to caffeine. Green tea offers a calmer form of energy, in contrast to the "buzz" that may be derived from caffeinated coffee and energy drinks. You will be able to enjoy the many other benefits of green tea such as its ability to modestly increase metabolism and promote weight loss-effects frequently associated with caffeine.
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