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Cheese and nutrition

Cheese is one of the healthiest foods available. Its bad reputation stems from its fat content, but consumed in moderation and with the option of low fat cheeses one can get all the benefits without any danger to the waistline.

Cheese has high nutritional value

Because of its relatively high fat content, cheese has gotten a bad reputation in certain circles. But cheese, in fact, is one of the healthiest foods available.

Served at the proper amount, an individual can get a range of valuable nutrients from cheese. A mere ounce of cheddar will provide just over 7 grams of protein, while supplying a little over 200 mg of calcium.

The casein in the milk used to make cheese is a useful protein in supporting health, since it contains all the essential amino acids. The phosphorus in cheese is one of the vital minerals needed for a healthy body, as is sodium which is critical to the heart's activity.

It takes about 10 pounds of milk to produce a pound of cheese, and almost all the nutrition in that original source is preserved in the final product. For the most part, making cheese from milk leaves the original vitamins and minerals intact.

You'll need to take some care to get the best nutrition that cheese has to offer. Long term storage should be between 35-40°F. Once exposed to air, both temperature and organisms will quickly act on the cheese. Flavor is lost quickly as the air dries out the cheese and certain harmless but distasteful molds can grow on the surface quickly.

Cheese stores well at room temperature, so when wrapped properly it can provide that nutrition on the road. In fact, the best cheeses are served at room temperature, since that brings out their full flavor. When a food tastes good, maintaining good nutrition is all the easier. Perpetual bland and tasteless food is not a great incentive to continue on a stringent diet.

Many cheese do contain substantial percentages of fat. But, though it has been the subject of a lot of junk science, fat is actually healthy in moderation. Fat is dense in calories, with each gram supplying around 9 calories. That's the source of much of its bad reputation. For those dieting it is necessary to watch the amount of fat consumed, since it's possible to take in so many calories in a small quantity of material.

Two other sources of its bad reputation are the role it can play in the creation of cholesterol and, of course, the unattractive deposits it forms around the waist. But here again, the key is moderation. In the proper amount, fat is essential to the regulation of certain vital neural processes and helps regulate hormones.

The key is to heed the type and amount of potentially worrisome compounds, such as sodium and fat. It's true that some mass produced cheeses are very high in sodium and contain relatively large amounts of saturated fat. But there are many cheeses that are low or moderate in sodium, and many are made from low-fat milk. Getting the facts of a specific type is the best method for planning your nutritional needs.

Low fat cheeses

Cheese is one of the healthiest foods we can consume, in moderation. A single ounce provides over 200mg of calcium, about 20% of the daily recommended minimum. Natural cheese, which contains casein, can provide the full complement of essential amino acids. But most cheese does, in fact, contain a relatively high percentage of fat - and saturated fat at that.

Saturated fats are contributors to a high level of 'bad' cholesterol and ththe ey provide 9 calories per gram. As a result, it's possible to get a lot of calories in a small quantity, and too much of the cholesterol forming compounds at the same time.

Reducing consumption is difficult for some. Cheese is not only a very enticing food, but it's a common ingredient in a wide range of recipes - fondue, Welsh Rarebit, pizza, some soups, as a topping on salads... the list goes on and on.

Vegetarians often find it easy to eliminate a lot of animal-based products from their diets, then find that cheese is everywhere. Going to a restaurant and finding something on the menu becomes a real challenge.

Low-fat cheeses can help solve the saturated fat dilemma

Since cheese is made from milk, it's possible to use different sorts to produce it. Though nature isn't so accommodating as to produce a low-fat milk, we can thank the ingenuity of chemists for finding a safe way to produce them. Though natural milk does vary in fat quantity. Milks that are 2% less in fat percentage are considered low-fat. Skim milk contains 1% or less. This can make cheese making more difficult, but the products are still outstanding.

One way to cut down on total fat from cheese is to divide and conquer. Chunks served after the main meal can be made of regular milk cheese, but use low-fat cheese in the main dish itself. One potentially tricky aspect, though, is the different way the two melt.

Most low-fat cheeses don't melt as smoothly as regular cheese. The lack of saturated fat molecules makes the result lumpy or stringy. Increasing the heat or lengthening the melting time often results in burning.

In some cases, there are techniques to overcome this limitation. In casseroles, for example, layering the cheese between the strips of pasta can help. The pasta supports the low-fat cheese, which then doesn't need to melt quite as smoothly. Another tip is useful for those cases where the cheese is added on top. Add the cheese later in the cooking cycle than you otherwise would. It will warm, but not melt entirely.

Alternating use of low-fat with regular cheese in this way can help reduce the total quantity of saturated fat consumed. Depending on your diet, that may be enough. Be prepared to sacrifice a little bit of taste, though. Making a low-fat cheese that tastes as good as the regular sort is still proving a challenge.