Young or old, everyone appreciates a generous helping of cheese on their pastas, toasts, pizza, lasagnas and burgers. This ancient food has persevered through the ages, making cuisines across the world more satisfying and palatable. Despite its popularity, cheese is looked upon as unhealthy food. Is there any truth to this? Let's find out.
What is cheese?
Cheese is a product made by coagulating milk proteins and separating them from the whey. To produce cheese, enzymes are added to milk to cause the casein to separate. The solids are then pressed together to form a block of cheese. Sometimes, moulds can be introduced to the cheese to add flavour and aroma.
According to legends, it was discovered accidentally by an Arabic merchant who carried milk in sheep's stomach (which was a common method to pack food back in the day).
The rennet or enzymes in the stomach and the sun's heat caused the milk to curdle and separate. The merchant then drank the whey to quench his thirst and the cheese to quell his hunger.
There is a dizzying variety of cheese today: gouda, cheddar, parmesan, edam, blue cheese, mozzarella, brie, camembert, feta, paneer, Emmental, mascarpone and gruyere to name some. They have distinct texture and flavour profile and are consumed accordingly.
It may be used as an ingredient in cooking or consumed directly. For example, mozzarella is a stretchy cheese made from buffalo milk and used mostly on pizza. Cheddar is a hard cheese used in macaroni, baked potato, nachos, sauces, dips and shepherd's pie. Emmental is consumed with desserts, wine or fruit.
A traditional food, cheese is used in a variety of cuisines, from French to Italian to British to American. Many of our modern favourites -- pizza, burger, lasagna, mac and cheese and baked potato -- won't be the same without this ingredient.
Cheese nutrition facts
A 100 gram of cheese contains the following nutrients:
Measure (Daily Value)
105 mg (35%)
Cheese health benefits
The nutritional value of cheese can vary according to the type, but there are some general health benefits. Irrespective of the type, cheese is good source of protein, calcium, phosphorus, sodium, vitamin A, B12, zinc, riboflavin and saturated fats. If it's made of the milk of grass-fed cows, it can provide a healthy balance of omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids.
Following are some of the general health benefits of cheese:
Good for teeth and bones: Cheese is rich in calcium, a mineral essential for bone and teeth health. Like most dairy products, cheese could also prevent cavities in children.
Could be beneficial for heart health: Cheese is high in vitamin K2 and calcium, which are great for heart health. Low sodium varieties may offer some heart health benefits since fermented dairy products are known to be good for cardiovascular health. Cheese also contains glutathione, an antioxidant that protects blood vessels.
Good for gut health: The fermented dairy product is a part of the Mediterranean diet, which is known for its many health benefits. Cheese is one of the few foods that contain a number of living, metabolizing microorganisms like bacteria, yeast and fungi. Hence, does have some promising probiotic benefits.
Dekker, L. H., Vinke, P. C., Riphagen, I. J., Minović, I., Eggersdorfer, M. L., van den Heuvel, E., Schurgers, L. J., Kema, I. P., Bakker, S., & Navis, G. (2019). Cheese and Healthy Diet: Associations With Incident Cardio-Metabolic Diseases and All-Cause Mortality in the General Population. Frontiers in nutrition, 6, 185. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnut.2019.00185
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