Cheese features highly in many people’s diets. In fact, more people are often in love with cheese than chocolate! It not only tastes delicious, in all its various guises, but it provides many health benefits.
There are a wide variety of cheeses with the only common theme being they are made from the same basic ingredient – milk (except for vegan cheese – more on that later).
Cheese is often given a bad rap from a health perspective because of its relatively high fat content. However, various studies have found many positive benefits of eating cheese, in moderation!
Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares the various types of cheeses, together with their health benefits.
Let’s start with the basics: what is cheese?
Essentially, cheese making involves coagulating the milk protein, casein, separating the milk into solid curds and draining the liquid whey. This is the process we often see on TV with the large vats of what looks a lot like cottage cheese with big separators moving the liquid around.
Many cheeses are produced from cow’s milk, but they can also come from other animals such as sheep, buffalo, and goat, all of which produce different flavours. Goat’s milk is higher in water than cows milk so yields less cheese, and the cheeses are usually softer.
Cheeses and their moisture content
The moisture content affects both taste and texture. An example of a low moisture hard cheese is Parmesan, and medium moisture would be cheddar.
High moisture cheese is soft and an example of this would be mozzarella. A cheese with very high moisture is cottage cheese.
Unripened soft cheeses, such as cottage, have a very light texture with little flavour, and ripened ones such as Camembert have mould added to the outside of the cheese which produces protein-digesting enzymes: these also have a stronger flavour.
Certain hard cheeses such as Stilton have mould added during the cheese-making process and they are then pierced with metal rods, creating air channels, and the mould you see grows within the cheese. This also creates their distinctive flavours.
What about the health benefits?
The nutritional profile of cheese is going to vary depending on the variety. However, all cheese is a great source of protein, with cheddar cheese producing around 8 grams for every thumb-sized wedge and 120 calories.
For the same number of calories, you can have half a cup of soft cheese which provides 14 grams of protein. Indeed, cottage cheese has a higher protein content than most others, and is lower in calories, hence if appears on many weight-loss programmes.
When it comes to micronutrients, cheese is a great source of calcium (highest in blue cheeses) which is essential for healthy bones, teeth, and muscles. Cheese also provides vitamin A (essential for immunity), vitamin B12 (needed for the nervous system and red blood cell production), zinc (important for the immune system and a range of body functions) and phosphorus, which works in tandem with calcium.
Cheese is also known to be high in fat, with halloumi, brie and camembert topping the leader board in this respect. Additionally, some cheeses are high in sodium so intake may have to be watched if you have raised blood pressure and are salt sensitive.
What about vegan cheese?
With the rise in veganism, many vegans, understandably, don’t want to miss out on their cheese hit. The good news is there are myriad vegan cheeses available, made from some form of vegetable proteins such as brown rice, nuts, coconut oil, soy, peas, and tapioca; it really comes down to personal taste preference.
However, as nutritional yeast is a great protein and nutrient source for vegans, do try and choose vegan cheeses that contains this amazing food. Nutritional yeast is rich in protein but also B-vitamins, and essential minerals including iron, and potassium.
Cheese can certainly provide a healthy and nutrient-dense addition to any balanced eating plan so enjoy!
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