Counseling Sheet

Harmful Effects of Cheese

Agatha M. Thrash, M.D.
Preventive Medicine

Very few things are sacrosanct in this day, and cheese must now be classed among those things that have lost their halo. Cheese has been used for at least 4,000 years, and has been widely acclaimed as a healthful food. Only recently has it been learned that cheese is not the wonder food that we had thought. There may be real dangers in its use.

All dairy products have become more suspect recently, from the association of the saturated fat of milk with the elevation of the blood cholesterol, to the transmission of animal diseases to man through dairy products. Most of the diseases transmitted from animals are of a minor nature, resembling colds, flu, streptococcal sore throat, and other infections, but an occasional disease is life threatening. The battle is still going on with brucellosis, a disease man can get from milk which threatens the quality of life for many years, giving a chronic low grade fever and below par performance to the afflicted person. Between 1883 and 1974, there were 59 epidemics caused by cheese, with 117 deaths in the United States alone.

Now cheese is under special attack, not because of infectious disease which it shares with all dairy products, but because of its basic chemistry. Cheese is made by the action of waste products from molds and bacteria on milk. Most foods contaminated with molds and bacteria produce such an unpleasant flavor that few people care to eat them. Generally, an unpleasant flavor in food heralds danger, and apparently this principle holds true for cheese, since most children naturally reject their first taste of cheese and must be taught to accept it.

Changes that occur in cheese with the fermenting and "ripening" process include the production of a toxic alkaloid called roquefortine, a neurotoxin which can cause mice to have convulsive seizures. Probably, all blue cheese contains roquefortine. The alkaloid is produced by the mold Penicillium roqueforti. The alkaloids are all toxic and include such widely differing poisons as coniine, one of the major volatile alkaloids found in the poison hemlock plant from which Socrates met his Waterloo, to caffeine, the major alkaloid in coffee, tea, colas, and chocolate.

Another class of toxic substances includes the toxic amines. Any fermented food or beverage may contain toxic amines. They produce changes in the nervous system which bring on headaches, palpitations, high blood pressure, migraines, and other known disorders which occur at a cellular level. Several toxic and non-toxic amines are produced during the fermentation of milk, tyramine among them, the amine causing migraine headaches. If a human follows his natural taste he will avoid anything that has the faintest taint of spoilage about it.

Milk, produced by mammary glands that are actually modified sweat glands, is naturally high in salt. Cheese shares in this high salt content. A high salt intake increases one's likelihood of having high blood pressure.The rennet for the curdling process in cheese-making is commonly obtained from calves' stomachs. A combination of rennin and pepsin is sometimes used, or plant enzymes derived from fungus. The pepsin is obtained principally from fresh hog stomachs. Many processed cheeses have preservatives, emulsifying agents, and other chemicals added to them that can have a harmful effect on the body. The putrefactive process through which milk goes to produce cheese reduces the vitamin content. Cheese is almost completely devoid of water soluble vitamins. Losses of both vitamins and minerals occur with the loss of whey.

Undesirable chemicals are produced by cheese-making that involve all three major constituents of cheese; fats, carbohydrates, and proteins. The fat in cheese is hydrolyzed to irritating fatty acids, butyric, caproic, caprylic, and longer carbon-chain fatty acids. The protein is fermented to peptides, amines, indoles, skatole, and ammonia, several of these being implicated in the production of cancer. The possibility of production of nitrosamine, one of the most powerful cancer producing agents known, is particularly disturbing. Both the nervous system and the gastrointestinal tract are irritated by certain of these substances, causing the individual to be irritable and cranky.

Of course, cheese also presents the usual draw-backs of milk such as allergies, lactose intolerance, food sensitivities, and high calorie content. Cheese contains much of the amino acid tryptophan, which causes after-meal drowsiness and inability to concentrate.

Certain imported cheeses have been discovered as the culprit in outbreaks of food-borne gastroenteritis in the United States. As many as 120 disease-producing germs have been isolated per gram of cheese; that would be 600 germs in a teaspoon of cheese! We can say from the foregoing, that some foods generally thought to be wholesome are actually injurious to the health.

Other foods that develop a specific flavor through the activity of bacteria include sauerkraut, vinegar, pickles, butter, buttermilk, and cultured milk. The holes in Swiss cheeses come from the action of gas forming bacilli, similar to those which form gas in the bowel.

For those who would like cheese substitutes, we include the following recipe, one of a number found in our Eat for Strength cookbook:

Agar Cheese

1/4 cup Agar
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup Water
1 teaspoon Onion Powder
3/4 cup Sesame Seed
1 cup Oil1 can Pimentos
1/2 cup Lemon Juice

Soak agar in water about 5 minutes, then boil gently until clear. While agar is boiling, place next five ingredients in blender and whirl until smooth. Add the hot agar, whirl 1/2 minute. Add the lemon juice last, and mix for only a second. Immediately, pour into mold and set in refrigerator to cool. Slice thinly onto a platter. Garnish with parsley. Another way to serve this cheese is to cut it into 1-inch cubes and sprinkle with sesame seed for decoration. For variation, use 1/4 cup of food yeast in the recipe or 3/4 cup cashews in place of the sesame seed.

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Uchee Pines Lifestyle Center
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Seale, Alabama 36875