Since booking my trip to Milan for this September, I’ve been thinking a lot about my last trip to Italy back in 2010. Thoughts:

1.) I can’t believe that was 5 years ago.

2.) I’m glad I’ve since gotten into the habit of brushing my hair and wearing a bra on the regular. The things you tell yourself you can get away with when you’re a grad student…

3.) The food. Game-changer. Seriously—the time I spent learning about food and cooking and eating in Italy cracked my mind right open and busted down a bunch of doors in there. Coming home to a freezer-full of Boca burgers, Tofurkey sausage, and the finger-wagging vegetarian boyfriend that went with all those things was really, really hard. And no offense to Pinkberry and all those other fro-yo chains, but, well, no.

4.) That was also the summer I broke up with diet soda and took up with espresso. Haven’t looked back once.

Perhaps the most important culinary takeaway from my time/studies in Italy, though, was this: Eat. Real. Cheese. 

In the U.S., we seem to have a cultural obsession with demonizing foods to “cut out” from our life/diet in order to become smaller or adhere to a “clean” lifestyle, because contained/small/in line=happier, especially for the ladies because, like, that’s not f***ed up at all. That said, maintaining a weight that is healthy for your body is important, and with two thirds of Americans classifying as overweight or obese, the majority are not in a balanced place in that regard.

mini brie and appleDairy is often one of the first things to go, despite the fact that there are a lot of important nutrients in dairy: calcium, vitamin A, vitamin D, protein, and potassium, just to name a few. Yes, you can get these nutrients from non-dairy sources, it can take some planning and/or supplementation. Of course, for those with lactose intolerance or who are allergic to casein or sensitive to dairy for other reasons, avoiding it makes sense. For some, once they cut it out, they feel amazing and swear that all their health and weight problems magically disappear, and that’s great for them.

Unfortunately, not everyone has the experience they want or expect. What’s more, I hear from a lot of clients, patients, and friends that trying to avoid dairy often leads to snacking on a bunch of other things to make up for that “missing something” feeling. If and when they do reintroduce dairy, moderation can be difficult.

There have been a lot of articles circulating recently about health-related reasons to keep cheese in the rotation. For people like me who have never thought it belonged on the no-fly list, it’s been refreshing to see people calming down a little (even if they’re going to start sniffing out a new food to hate soon). This particular article about a study looking at ways in which cheese may aid in weight loss was especially popular in my social media network. In a small Danish study, those with regular consumption of cheese had a higher level butyrate in the blood, an anti-inflammatory fatty acid noted for its impact on energy production and potential to help manage metabolism, weight, and body fat percentage. Of course, it’s one small study, but other researchers have published reports recently on good-news correlations between dairy consumption and health, including reduced diabetes risk.

Beyond what any one study says, though, I like to think of it this way: When you constantly change the rules on your body—gut microbiota in particular—eventually, it’s going to be, like, “F*** you” and do that whole “two can play that game” thing. You wouldn’t be so fickle with a friend or partner (would you?), so why do we treat our bodies with such disregard?

If cheese is something you really enjoy within the context of an overall healthy diet, then enjoy it.

That said, it’s important to remember that cheese is still a food that is rich in fat and calories—a little goes a long way. That’s why it’s especially important to savor a small amount of what really does it for you, no side of guilt necessary.

 Do you eat dairy products and/or cheese? 

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