While the milk intake of the average American has gone down by half since the 1970s, our intake of cheese has gone up up up! Though our average consumption was around 11 pounds of cheese per year back then, in modern times we eat a whopping 35 pounds of cheese per year.

This may not be for the best. It certainly isn't for the best for calves. Most non-vegan cheese is made with rennet, which is the stomach lining of a calf that has been slaughtered shortly after its birth.

Since the main ingredient of cheese is milk, it comes with many of the same health benefits (protein, calcium, and vitamin D) and risks (contamination with hormones, risk of allergies and other adverse reactions, insulin and IGF-1 spikes).

However, cheese actually contains less sugar than milk, with most varieties having close to none. Even some people with lactose intolerance who cannot tolerate milk can tolerate the smaller amounts present in cheese.

Plus, since most cheeses are fermented, many of the harmful compounds usually found in milk are reduced or removed. Cheese also contains conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a fat that is sometimes used as a weight loss supplement. Though other research has shown that CLA is harmful in large doses, the amount naturally present in food could have a small fat burning effect.

Cheese also has more nutrients and is lower in saturated fat than other popular fatty food choices like butter. Researchers have hypothesized that these properties of cheese could be partly responsible for the "French paradox," or the fact that French people have a relatively low incidence of heart disease despite the fact that they eat a pretty rich diet.

However, there are reasons that cheese is strictly limited on Phase 2 of the 123Diet; we suggest that you only use it for your dairy allowance about twice a week. For one thing, it is high in cholesterol, sodium, and saturated fat, all of which can raise the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes, conditions that overweight people are already at a very high risk for. In fact, cheese is the food that accounts for the highest percentage of saturated fat and cholesterol intake in a typical American diet.

Cheese is also a very calorie-dense food, meaning it is incredibly easy to overeat without making you feel very full. Depending on the variety, cheese may contain over 100 calories in only a one ounce serving. Of course, all cheeses are also not created equal; softer cheeses are generally lower in fat than harder ones, and fresh cheese is always better than processed.

Along with what kind of cheese and how much cheese you eat, keep an eye on how you prepare your cheese and what you eat it with; a fried and oily mozzarella stick or a piece of pizza made with white flour and processed sauce and meats is almost certainly a health and calorie disaster.

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