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Say Cheese

Cheese is included in so many different recipes and makes almost every dish taste just a little bit better. But isn’t it bad for you? Not at all. In fact, cheese has a surprising number of health benefits. One of the reasons that cheese has a bad reputation as an unhealthy food is because it is a high-fat food and eating a lot of it can lead to weight gain. Cheese can be good for you. Of course, you need to eat fatty foods like cheese in moderation as part of a balanced diet and a lifestyle that includes exercise.

Notably, some of these health benefits vary depending upon the type of cheese that you are eating and the way that its prepared.

Processed cheese
Processed cheese comprises several types of cheeses combined with emulsifiers and other additives such as butter, herbs or spices. Once combined, the cheese mixture is steamed and stirred with a mechanized device. Under heat and pressure, the cheese “processes.” The texture evolves through different temperatures until it becomes smooth and glossy. It’s then fed to a packing machine where it is checked for consistency, labeled, and cooled.

Processed cheese originated in the early 20th century when factories would purchase large quantities of leftover or defective cheese to package and redistribute. Since then, it has become an enormous industry, but no longer begins with substandard cheese. However, it is still not comparable to real cheese. It tends to contain a multitude of chemicals, including emulsifiers such as sodium phosphate, potassium phosphate, and tartrate. Although the concentrations per volume of cheese are relatively low, it may be a good idea to be aware of what you could be putting into your body.
The effects of the above chemical emulsifiers are described as follows:

* Sodium Phosphate: Has caused serious kidney damage in some people. In some cases, this damage was permanent, and some people whose kidneys were damaged had to be treated with dialysis (treatment to remove waste from the blood when the kidneys are not working well).

* Potassium Phosphate: Severe allergic reactions (rash; hives; itching; difficulty breathing; tightness in the chest; swelling of the mouth, face, lips, or tongue); bone or joint pain; confusion; decreased urination; dizziness; irregular heartbeat; muscle cramps; numbness, tingling, pain, or weakness in the hands or feet; numbness or tingling around the lips; seizures; severe or persistent diarrhea; shortness of breath; unusual tiredness; unusual weakness or heaviness of the legs.

* Tartrate: Constipation; diarrhea; dizziness; dry mouth/eyes; gas; headache; heartburn; light-headedness; mild drowsiness; muscle aches; nausea; pain, redness, or swelling at the injection site; stomach pain; trouble sleeping; unusual tiredness or weakness; vomiting.

It is to be understood that high proportion of processed cheeses are a serious threat to the health of modern society, and the sad fact is that the majority of people do not know, or perhaps even care, about the differences between unprocessed(natural) and processed cheeses. A major reason for this, especially in a cash-strapped society, probably comes down to the price differential between the two. Moreover, in the hectic pace of modern life, it is likely to remain that way – simply because people do not seem to have the time or skill to make their own cheese as would have been the case in the rural farmhouse a century or more ago. The only advantages of processed cheese I see would be:

* Melts smoothly when cooked (meaning the parts don’t separate)
* Holds texture and taste when heated
* Demonstrates an extended shelf-life

Natural cheese
Natural cheese is made directly from a starter bacteria, rennet, and milk, which is  then allowed to solidify. It may or may not be aged. Each natural cheese variety is processed, resulting in distinctive qualities. In fresh, unripened cheese, the curd, separated from the whey, can be formed into cheese immediately, whereas in matured or ripened cheese, the curd may be further treated by the addition of select strains of bacteria, mold, yeast or a combination of these ripening agents. The bacteria, mold, and yeast continue to ripen the cheese over time, changing the cheese’s flavor and texture as it ages. When choosing natural cheese as an ingredient, it’s important to understand how a cheese will perform in a finished product based on its age and storage conditions. Natural cheeses are often categorized according to their moisture or degree of softness or hardness. Soft cheeses include Brie, Camembert, Ricotta and Cottage cheese. Semi soft cheeses include Blue, Brick, Feta, Havarti, Mozzarella, Muenster, and Provolone. Hard cheeses include Cheddar, Colby, Edam, Gouda and Swiss. Very hard cheese varieties include Parmesan and Romano. Cottage cheese is my personal favorite and can be easily prepared in your kitchen. It can be used as a healthy, low fat substitute for other, higher fat soft cheeses.

When cottage cheese is hard pressed, the end products are farmer cheese, hoop cheese, pot cheese or queso blanco (blanco meaning ‘white’). In Sweden, cottage cheese is commonly called ‘Keso‘ and famously called ‘Paneer‘ in India. Some of the most important benefits of cheese include:

1. It helps to gain weight.
2. It’s High in Protein. No wonder body builders swear by this food!
3. Its low in carbohydrates
4. High in calcium
5. Cheese may be good for your skin. Cheese is a product that contains B vitamins.
6. Cheese can reduce problems associated with PMS.
7. Cheese helps pregnancy go more smoothly by stimulating contractions when it’s time for delivery. It also enhances milk production in the body to help feed the baby once it is born.
8. Cheese also contains tryptophan, a type of amino acids that can relieve stress and help you sleep.
9.  Rich in vitamin B12, B6, and folic acid which helps DNA synthesis, cell maturation of red blood cells and maintain nerve function and also helps the metabolism of amino acids and fats.
10. Protein content in 100 grams of cottage cheese can provide 25% of the daily need.

Can cheese with its saturated fat content increase the risk of heart disease? Its still not proven, even in the highest consuming countries (of Natural cheese) like Switzerland, France and even Greece. However its better to to limit consumption to 57 grams of cheese a week. Replacing processed cheese and high fat cheese with alternatives allows us to enjoy our meals without harming our health.
Choose the right type of cheese and stop blaming the cheese. Blame the processing for all the high fat myths. Say cheese…

Bewell,
Vivek

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