Can you name something more delicious than cheese? Whether it’s melted on crispy pizza, a burger, between two slices of bread, or eaten on its own with crackers or fruit, the star of the dairy food group comes in a plethora of different types and flavors, and is arguably one of the tastiest foods around. Whether you order pizza regularly, are a self-proclaimed purveyor of cheese dip, or can’t say no to the dinner party cheese plate, no one here is judging your love of cheese. Cheese is delicious and there are so many great kinds to enjoy—from cheddar to brie, feta, mozzarella, and goat. But, when it comes to cheesy delights, there is such a thing as too much.
While cheese is a good source of protein, calcium, and phosphorus, it’s unfortunately low in fiber. “Combining plant-based foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole-grain crackers with cheese helps fill nutrient gaps and increases fiber intake,” Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, FAND, award-winning nutrition expert and Wall Street Journal bestselling author of The Best Rotisserie Chicken Cookbook, tells us.
“Just like all foods, though, cheese can be eaten in moderation to help avoid long-term health issues,” says Mascha Davis MPH, RDN, Private Practice Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and author of Eat Your Vitamins. The American Heart Association notes that one portion of cheese is 1.5 ounces and the recommendation for eating cheese is three servings per day. But how do you know if you are eating too much cheese? “The best way is to pay attention to your body,” says Davis. These six symptoms could easily fly under the radar, but they might be your body’s way of telling you it’s time to cut back a bit on the cheese situation.
Gas After Eating
About 75% of the population is lactose intolerant—meaning, most people are unable to digest lactose, the sugar found in dairy foods. So, when you dive headfirst into that cheese board, all that dairy ferments in your intestines and can cause you to pass gas. “Humans have a deficiency of the natural enzyme called lactase, which breaks down the milk sugar to make it digestible,” says Davis. “When left undigested, lactose can lead to the production of excessive gas.”
Cheese is high in cholesterol—but it’s actually the food’s high levels of saturated fat that’s to blame for raising people’s cholesterol levels. Diets high in saturated fat raise your low-density lipoprotein (LDL or “bad”) cholesterol levels, which can potentially increase your risk for developing heart disease or other health problems. Again, cheese and saturated fat won’t kill you in moderation. But, to maintain a balanced diet and promote good cardiovascular health, Davis suggests adding more omega fat-containing foods (e.g., olive oil, fish, coconut oil, and hemp oil) to your meal rotations.
Have you ever found yourself making a mad dash for the bathroom after eating more than your fair share of cheese? It’s not fun or pleasant, but diarrhea is a common side effect of over consuming dairy; you may experience it a few hours after eating or the next day. “[Loose stool] occurs due to undigested lactose in the small intestine, which causes water to move into the digestive tract,” says Davis. Although cheese is a lower lactose food with one ounce of sharp cheddar cheese, mozzarella cheese, and Swiss cheese providing less than 0.1 grams of lactose, there may be a limit that your body can tolerate at one time. If you have this disagreeable symptom, drink lots of water in order to re-hydrate and flush out your system.
Acne And Other Skin Problems
While it hasn’t yet been medically proven that dairy foods lead to acne, research shows the two definitely correlate. A 2018 study revealed that people who frequently eat dairy are more likely to have triggered acne breakouts than people who skip the cheese. “This symptom could manifest in skin soreness, acne, rashes, blotchiness, or simply lackluster skin,” says Davis. If you develop skin problems and consume cheese on a regular basis, Davis suggests making appointments with a dermatologist and dietitian to determine the underlying cause of your skin issues. If you can bear it, you can also try temporarily eliminating cheese from your diet and seeing how your skin fares after some time.
Cheese: it tastes so good going down, but, if you overboard, your tummy can both feel and look like a balloon afterward. “The sensation of bloating is caused by an increase of water and gas in the colon, which causes the gut wall to stretch,” says Davis. “It’s also a symptom of lactose malabsorption, which is uncomfortable but usually harmless.”
Some people are actually allergic to cheese, which is different (and more medically serious) than lactose intolerance. “Allergic reaction symptoms [to dairy] can show up as anything from mild rashes to severe trouble breathing,” says Davis. “If you experience any of these, it indicates high levels of histamines as your immune system responds to an allergen. Make sure to talk to your doctor if this happens.”