Can cheese be healthy?

After experimenting with many different diets and eating patterns, I have found my most favorite diet. I feel best, when I eat one meal in the evening, consisting of a raw salad, followed by steamed vegetables and most of my calories coming from nuts. I make the salad-dressing out of blended nuts and use nut-butter as a dip for the steamed veggies. Every day I also sprinkle about 20-30grams of ground flaxseed over my food. That way, I end up with about 50-80gr of carbs which are very slow digesting and therefore my insulin levels should be very low for most of the time.


But in the past I have also encountered one problem with this diet. I lose too much weight. Insulin levels might be so low all of the time, that it just does not allow for major muscle growth. In general intermittent fasting, caloric restriction and a plant-based diet all reduce circulating IGF-1 levels. In general this is good if you want to increase longevity. But on the other-hand too low levels of IGF-1 might cause slowed tissue-repair and reduces muscle-mass. This goes hand in hand with my experience: Sometimes I have sour muscles after a workout for up to a week. This is definitely not what good recovery looks like.

Why dairy and no other animal products?

So my idea is to include dairy (I will start with goat and sheep milk) into my diet. Dairy is well known to cause an insulin spike even without carbohydrates. The proteins in milk are the cause for this and also have an impact on IGF-1 levels as they are high in leucine. I choose to include dairy over eggs because milk is comparatively low in carnitine and choline. Those two amino-acids are problematic because the gut microbiome and then the liver will convert them into a carcinogen called TMAO. Recent research has shown that this substance might in fact be the reason why animal products can cause cancer and heart disease and not the saturated fat or cholesterol content. Therefore eggs and meat are problematic. Dairy on the other hand does contain very low levels of both amino-acids. Cheese contains 15mg of choline per 100grams, whereas 100grams of fresh egg already has 251mg of choline. The level of choline in eggs is 30 times higher than in cheese when compared on a caloric basis.

For the purpose of including a calorically dense food that increases insulin and IGF-1 without carbohydrates, I will choose goat-milk in the form of well-fermented cheese for the beginning. In my opinion this is the least likely to cause allergic or otherwise negative reactions for two reasons. Firstly goat milk is less allergenic than milk from cows containing a certain type of casein.


Goat-milk from grass-fed free-range sources is the most ethical animal product?

For many years I have spent my summer-holidays hiking in the mountains of Switzerland. There you will see large areas of forest-free pasture where many goats, sheep and cows are grazing. The areas are oftentimes too high or too steep for any other agriculture to be possible. The only way to produce any form of food from these areas is to use them as pasture-land for animals and use their products. I have seen the cows and goats go to the milking stations on their own without any stress or resistance at all. Many newborns are among the animals and you can observe that only the additional milk is taken for human consumption. This resembles the ideal of animal treatment and how to obtain milk. So by buying free-range milk from that area I am sure it is produced in that way.

Efficient metabolism of cheese when on a high fat low carb diet

The high fat content and absence of carbohydrates in cheese fits well into my dietary regiment. On a high carbohydrate diet the inclusion of animal fats might be problematic. So the common combination of bread and cheese is likely to be suboptimal for health. A high fat intake is known to suppress insulin sensitivity. That means the same amount of carbohydrates requires a larger amount of insulin to enter the cells. With a (very) low carbohydrate intake this is not a problem, as there is little glucose which needs to enter the cells. Secondly the high saturated fat content of milk is good addition to the mono- and poly-unsaturated fat I am mainly getting from nuts and seeds. This keeps the overall level of omega-6 fats lower and in a desirable range.

First benefit of cheese consumption

After the first two days of incorporating cheese into my diet, I observed the first benefit of doing so. On a low carb diet, I am still struggling with muscle twitches. I have them whenever I eat less than about 70-100gr. of carbohydrates per day. But after the meals that included some goat-cheese, I observed a decrease in this phenomenon. I usually have the twitches all over my body. My theory is that it is caused by low insulin levels. Without insulin some nutrients cannot enter the cell so readily and maybe my muscles lack magnesium. Dairy-protein is known to cause an insulin-release, which might just be what I need, when I eat my one meal a day after fasting for about 23 hours. I guess there must be a balance in hormones over the course of the day. It is good to have low insulin most of the time, but while eating there should also be a spike in insulin so that the nutrients can enter the cells. And with a plant-based low carb diet, the insulin-release might just not be sufficient to absorb all the nutrients in only one meal. Therefore I will continue to observe the effects of dairy on this regimen. Should the muscle twitches not get better over time (after inner-cellular magnesium levels had the chance to increase) I will switch to a higher carb content of the one meal coming from fast acting sources like white rice.
But so far I want to stick with the high fat diet, because it seems like starches aggravate my scalp psoriasis.

Results: Two weeks of including cheese in my diet

I can certainly say that my body has adjusted to eating certain kind of cheeses and also the aged cows milk cheeses. I could observe that it caused me no problem at all. But an experiment with eating yogurt did result in some digestive issues. I would guess that store-bought yogurts are not thoroughly fermented.  Sudden changes in my carbohydrate level will still results in those mysterious muscle twitches. Whenever I have days where I eat only nuts, seeds, a little cheese and vegetables, they will come back. I have found that I need at least 70-100 grams of net carbs per day to prevent those twitches. In the beginning the cheese seemed to stop the twitching, but I would guess that this came from the higher protein content which my body converted partially into glucose. With a low protein intake of around 50-70gr per day, I need more carbohydrates to compensate. If I add up those numbers, I am still eating a high fat diet. Compared to other low carbohydrate dieters, who consume a lot more protein, my combined protein and carb intake is on a similar level. It is common for ketogenic or low-carb dieters to consume more than 100gr of protein per day and up to 50gr of carbohydrates. So total calories coming from non fat sources are similar in both diets. But I choose to limit protein consumption because it has been shown to increase longevity in a number of animal studies.

Conclusion:


By choosing the cheeses which are aged, high in fat and lower in protein, milk can be a healthy addition to a low carbohydrate diet. To limit methionine intake, protein derived from milk must be limited. Total protein intake must also be limited to about 1g/kg bodyweight per day. I personally did not observe any negative health outcomes after almost a month of including cheeses into my diet. By including a generous amount of vegetables and fiber in the diet, any concerns regarding rising cholesterol should be countered. Certain types of mold-cheeses have also been shown to have positive health effects. I even feel that cheese can be particularly healthy for individuals consuming a low protein, low calorie vegan diet. Because this might cause very low IGF-levels long term and leads so slower regeneration after workouts and injuries. Dairy protein is known to raise IGF-levels. And this is the reason why it should be limited and not combined with a high protein, high carbohydrate and high calorie diet. 

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