As we have seen some time ago, there are lots of types of cheese and most of the time can be confusing to understand what cheese is good for our health and which one we should enjoy in moderation.
Natural cheese versus processed cheese
As you can guess, natural cheese don’t contain any preservatives or artificial ingredients. Natural cheese is made from simple, natural ingredients like fresh high quality milk, salt and enzymes, it is considered a whole food and they usually contain less sodium.
Popular types of natural cheeses include unripened (e. g., cottage cheese, cream cheese), soft (e. g., Brie, Camembert), semi-hard (e. g., Brick, Muenster, Roquefort, Stilton), hard (e. g., Colby, Cheddar), blue veined (e. g., Blue, Gorgonzola), cooked hard cheeses (e. g., Swiss, Parmesan), and pasta filata (stretched curd, e. g., Mozzarella, Provolone).
Processed cheese on the other side, is made by combining some natural cheese with more milk and salt and then adding a long list of emulsifiers, stabilisers, food colouring, preservatives and hydrogenates fats. It is true that processed cheese has a longer shelf life than natural cheese. Processed cheese is commonly found in fast foods and processed goods.
American cheese, cheese out of a can, or cheese spreads are examples of processed cheese.
Having said this, you should always look for a natural cheese in preference to the processed varieties.
Certified organic and grass-fed cheese
When you’re looking for the healthiest cheese option you should be looking for certified organic and 100% grass-fed cheese.
Buying certified organic cheese supports not only diary farmers who use sustainable, ethical farm practices that are better for our health, but also for the health of their cows and the environment.
Remember, is always better and healthier: quality versus quantity.
I’m sure you know by now that consuming certified organic food will help reduce our exposure to a number of toxins that are commonly associated with commercial dairy farming methods, including pesticides, genetically modified organisms, antibiotics and synthetic hormones.
Beside, organic cheese can be higher in certain nutrients too.
Choosing 100% grass-fed cheese means that the cows have grazed in pastures all year round.
Grass-fed cows produce milk that is usually richer in omega-3 fats, vitamin E and conjugated linoleum acid (CLA), which in turn produces cheese that is higher in these beneficial nutrients.
Whole-milk vs reduced or low-fat cheese
The whole-milk has more omega-3 fats and other important fat-soluble vitamins such as A, D, E and K and the fat from the milk will help absorb all these vitamins.
If we eat cheese in moderation and stick to smaller services sizes of 28-30 g, natural whole-milk or full-fat cheese is a healthy choice. It also help improve our sense of satiety after eating.
But if you already get the saturated fats from other sources, a reduced-fat cheese might be a better option for you.
Health benefits of cheese
As we all know, cheese is a great source of calcium. Around 30% of the calcium present in cheese is absorbed by our body. This important mineral helps our body with building and maintaining strong healthy bones and reduce the risk of osteoporosis. Calcium is also required for healthy nerve and muscle function.
A 28 g slice of whole-milk cheddar provides 200 mg of calcium, which is 20% of our recommended daily intake (RDI).
At the same time, cheese provides also good-quality protein, which is required for growth and repair. Eating protein-rich foods like cheese can help keep our blood sugar levels balanced and creates a sense of satiety, which is beneficial for maintaining a healthy weight.
A 28 g serving of whole-milk cheddar will supply us with 7.5 g of protein, which is 20% of our RDI.
Cheese also provides some vitamin D. Cow’s milk is fortified with vitamin D. This fat-soluble vitamin plays a significant role in our bone health. Now, I’m sure you’ve already heard that our body doesn’t absorb the calcium from food just like this. Our organism need vitamin D to absorb calcium properly to promote bone growth and to help regulate the immune system.
Calcium and vitamin D goes hand-in-hand.
Cheese also supplies vitamin A that helps to support our eye health and promote good vision. Beside, this fat-soluble vitamin helps strengthen our immune system and is beneficial for skin health.
A 28 g slice of whole-milk cheddar provides 500 IU of vitamin A, which is 10% of our RDI.
Cheese also contains a good dose of B vitamins, including vitamins B12. This is an essential vitamin for our body that:
- is necessary for maintaining a healthy cardiovascular and nervous system
- it supports red blood cell production and helps promote healthy energy levels
- It’s also needed for optimal brain function, mood and memory
If you’re low in this important nutrient your cognitive function will suffer.
Vitamin B12 deficiency is a common nutrient deficiency around the world.
Whole-milk Swiss cheese provides the highest levels of B12, with a 28 g slice providing 36% of our RDI. Mozzarella and feta are also high in B12.
Furthermore, including cheese in our diet will also supply us with some important minerals, including selenium, zinc, phosphorus and magnesium.
As we have seen above, whole-milk and grass-fed cheese contains higher levels of two types of beneficial fats – omega-3 and CLA. These healthy fats have a positive effect on our cardiovascular and immune health; they support blood sugar regulation and help reduce inflammation and plaque build-up in the arteries which in long run is very important.
When cows are grass-fed all year round they produce higher amounts of these heart-healthy fats in their milk. Also feta and other cheeses made from sheep’s milk tend to have higher levels of CLA, compared to cheese made from cow’s milk.
Aged cheese, or cheese made from raw or unpasteurised milk, will contain some probiotics, which are live microorganisms that have powerful benefits for our body and brain when consumed.
Traditional cheddars, feta, Edam, mozzarella, Gruyere and Gouda are common examples of probiotics cheeses.
Including these in our diet will provide some probiotic benefits to support our gut and immune health. They may improve digestive health, reduce depression and promote heart health too.
Soft non-fermented cheese like cottage cheese and highly processed cheeses do not contain probiotics.
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Salt! Be careful at the salt level in your life!
Cheese is very delicious but is a major contributor of sodium. Salt is not only added to the cheese to enhance taste, it also acts as a natural preservative.
Depending on the type of cheese, it may contain anywhere between 190 to 400 mg of sodium per 28 g serving.
Lower-sodium cheeses include Swiss, goat’s, ricotta and fresh mozzarella.
Processed cheese, parmesan, feta and blue cheeses are usually higher in sodium.
You can buy low-sodium cheese; however, check the ingredients as some manufacturers add in artificial ingredients to bump up the salty flavour.
Cheese is also high in saturated fats, with the average whole-milk cheese containing around 70% saturated fat.
The body uses these saturated fats to make hormones and produce energy so moderate amounts of saturated fat from wholesome natural foods are healthy.
And to not forget about the lactose intolerance.
A person with a lactose intolerance lacks the enzyme needed to break down and digest the sugar found in milk. Consuming milk and dairy products may result in bloating, flatulence or diarrhoea.
Moderation is always the key.
Tolerance levels depend on the individual. One person may be able to tolerate aged dairy with low levels of lactose, such as yogurt and hard cheeses, while others experience a reaction to even a small amount of dairy produce.
Soft, fresh cheeses, such as mozzarella, may trigger a reaction in a person with a lactose intolerance. However, harder cheeses, such as cheddar and parmesan, have lower levels of lactose. People with a lactose intolerance may find that a small amount of these cheeses can be safely consumed.
Again, moderation is the key.
Exaggerating with foods high in sodium and saturated fats can increase our risk of becoming obese and can increase our risk of high blood pressure and heart disease.
And as I always like to say:
Enjoy a little bit of everything, just don’t exaggerate with anything!
Medical News Today
Wellbeing Magazine, Australia