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Cheese Without the Whine: Some Types Are Good for You

By Martha Michael

Cheese Wheel

If a charcuterie board covered with colby, brie, and asiago cheeses make you melt with anticipation, you’re not alone. There are plenty of people who think there’s nothing feta than cheese, and there’s gouda news about the health benefits as well.

Don’t worry, the grating puns stop now. Until the end.

Little Miss Muffet and the Cheesemaking Process

Turning milk into cheese begins by separating it into curds and whey, a process that transforms it from a perishable liquid into a long-lasting food product.

The website for The Courtyard Dairy describes the basic steps in the cheesemaking process. To remove excess liquid from milk, cheesemakers heat it gently and add “starter cultures,” which are lactic-acid-forming bacteria, and enzymes called rennet. Curdling occurs as a result of the chemical changes; the form it takes depends on the amount of the additives used in the acidification process, which determines the style of cheese that’s created.

The website for dairy checkoff program U.S. Dairy describes the way cheesemakers alter their recipes to create varieties of cheeses that perform for the purpose of specific dishes. From its ability to melt for pizza to the creamy consistency in a pasta dish, the recipe for cheese is tailored to fill one of eight varieties:

  • Blue
  • Hard
  • Pasta filata
  • Processed
  • Semi-hard
  • Semi-soft
  • Soft and fresh
  • Soft-ripened

Knowing When to Say ‘Cheese’

While cheese is a great source of protein and calcium, it also tends to be high in sodium and saturated fat, according to an article on the Medical News Today website. Like most foods, there’s good news and bad news about including it in your diet.

The type of cheese you consume makes a difference because each has different characteristics. Some of the health benefits you can get from eating cheese are:

Lower blood pressure - Calcium-rich foods such as cheese reduce blood pressure rates, though you should look for low-fat, low-sodium versions. Recommended varieties include Swiss cheese, cottage cheese, feta, and goat cheese.

Gut health and lower cholesterol - Because of its fermentation, cheese may increase the growth of microbiota, or healthy bacteria, in your gut. In turn, this may reduce cholesterol levels.

Stronger bones - Most cheeses contain nutrients that enhance bone development, including magnesium, zinc, protein, and Vitamins A, D, and K.

Healthy blood vessels - Dairy products contain the antioxidant glutathione, which contributes to brain health. It’s best to choose cheeses with lower levels of cholesterol and sodium, which can cause cardiovascular issues if levels get too high.

Dental health - Tooth formation depends on ample supplies of calcium, which you get from a diet that includes dairy products. Research suggests that cheese consumption may lower your risk of cavities by raising the pH level in your dental plaque.

Omega-3 fatty acids - Cows that consume Alpine grasses produce milk with a greater quantity of omega-3 fatty acids, which contribute to brain and cardiovascular health.

Which Cheeses Stand Alone?

Generally speaking, cheese contributes protein, calcium, and other nutrients to your body, reducing the risk of developing heart disease and preventing the advancement of osteoporosis.

An article by Healthline describes nutritional benefits from specific types of cheeses:

Feta - A product of Greek origin, feta cheese is usually made from sheep’s or goat’s milk and is a white cheese with a salty flavor. It’s sometimes higher in sodium because it’s packaged in a brine that acts as a preservative. One ounce of feta has 80 calories and provides 10 percent of your recommended daily intake of calcium.

Swiss - A product from Switzerland, Swiss cheese is semi-hard and is covered in holes that are created when bacteria release gasses. It is made from cow’s milk and has a nutty taste. One ounce of Swiss cheese is 111 calories and provides 25 percent of your recommended daily intake of calcium.

Parmesan - Made from raw, unpasteurized cow’s milk, parmesan cheese is aged for a minimum of one year. It has a hard, gritty texture and salty flavor. One ounce of parmesan has 110 calories and provides 34 percent of your recommended daily intake of calcium.

Cheddar - A popular product coming from England, cheddar cheese is white or yellow and it’s made from cow’s milk that’s been matured for several months. One ounce of cheddar cheese has 115 calories and provides 20 percent of your recommended daily intake of calcium.

Goat - Sometimes referred to as chevre, goat cheese is a nutritious, tangy cheese, obviously made from goat’s milk. It has a soft texture and can be found in logs, crumbles, and other servable forms. One ounce of goat cheese has 75 calories and provides 4 percent of your recommended daily intake of calcium.

Cottage cheese - Made from curds formed by cow’s milk, cottage cheese probably originated in the United States. It has a soft texture that makes it easy to consume using a spoon. One ounce of cottage cheese has 120 calories and provides 10 percent of your recommended daily intake of calcium.

Mozzarella - Low in sodium and calories compared to other cheeses, mozzarella is of Italian origin and is made from Italian buffalo or cow’s milk. One ounce of mozzarella has 85 calories and provides 14 percent of your recommended daily intake of calcium.

Like the idea that the moon is made of cheese, some things are impossible to believe. Because of the variations in processing cheese, the health benefits of including it in your diet can cut both ways. Plenty of ironies exist, such as the heightened value of something older and smellier than the rest.

Whether you favor fondue, nachos, or a simple cheese-and-crackers combo, it can take some work figuring out which cheese works best for you … but that’s nothing to whine about.

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