Cheese is number-one source of artery-clogging fat in American diet

WASHINGTON - Cheese is giving Americans a heart attack, says the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), which is urging us to cut back. Cheese consumption has almost tripled since 1970, making cheese the nation’s biggest source of saturated fat.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the average American eats 30 pounds of cheese a year. That compares to only 11 pounds in 1970.

“Americans are eating far too much fatty cheese,” said Margo Wootan, Nutrition Policy Director for CSPI. “Unfortunately, it’s everywhere: on sandwiches, on lean chicken, on salads, and even on fries. And it’s doing even more damage to our hearts than beef or butter.”

“Many people think of calcium-rich cheese as healthful, but it’s a dangerous trap,” continued Wootan. “People would be better off getting their calcium from foods like fat-free (skim) or 1% milk, low-fat yogurt, low-fat cheese, or calcium-fortified orange juice.”

CSPI urges people to help their heart by making simple changes, including:

  • Order pizza with half the regular amount of cheese. And avoid cheese-stuffed-crust pizzas like Pizza Hut’s The Insider, which has an extra layer of cheese between its two crusts.
  • At restaurants, order sandwiches and burgers without cheese. Adding cheese to a McDonald’s Quarter Pounder or Burger King Whopper adds an extra five grams of saturated fat — about a quarter of a day’s worth.
  • Switch to lite or reduced-fat cheese.
  • Limit yourself to two ounces of full-fat cheese per week (the average person now eats four times as much). That would cut more than four grams of saturated fat each day from the average diet — almost a quarter of a day’s worth.

“Heart disease is the leading cause of death for American men and women,” said Dr. William E. Connor, professor of Medicine and Clinical Nutrition at the Oregon Health Sciences University. “Anything Americans can do to reduce their intake of saturated fat and cholesterol, such as cutting back on cheese, would lessen the risk of heart disease.”

“Just one ounce of full-fat cheese can have as much as six grams of artery-clogging fat — a third of a day’s worth,” said Wootan. “And an ounce isn’t much, just 1 1/2 slices of processed cheese, a 1 1/4-inch cube of cheddar or most other hard cheeses, or the cheese on a slice of a large pizza.”

“Parmesan and Romano cheeses are just as fatty as other cheeses, but are so flavorful that a little goes a long way,” continued Wootan. “A tablespoon or two are all that’s needed to zip up a bowl of pasta or salad, and that means less saturated fat.”

In a letter to Secretary Tommy Thompson, CSPI urged the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to mount national campaigns to encourage Americans to eat less saturated fat — including less cheese — and more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. The letter stated, “According to HHS’s estimates, between 310,000 and 580,000 Americans die prematurely every year due to poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle. Among the most important dietary factors is high intake of saturated fat.”