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Say Cheese!

Americans love cheese. According to the International Dairy Foods Association, 9.7 billion pounds were produced in the U.S. in 2007 and some polls say it is the number one food people crave.

Cheese has high nutrition, too. Like all dairy foods, cheese provides calcium and protein, as well as some vitamin A, B12, riboflavin, zinc and phosphorus. And it’s a source of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a fat that may have anti-cancer, weight-reducing and heart-protective effects.

Cheese is high in calories (about 100 per ounce) and fat (6 to 9 grams per ounce, most of which is saturated). The key to fitting cheese into most healthy diets is to consume moderate amounts.

Wise Cheese Choices

Cheeses vary widely in their calorie, fat and sodium content. To get the most out of your cheese portions, consider these tips.

Think of cheese as a flavor enhancer, a supporting player in a meal. A thin slice with fruit makes a nice dessert. An ounce or two of cheese, even daily, is reasonable — as long as you can afford the calories and your diet is not otherwise high in saturated fat.

Compare calories and fat on packaged cheeses. Some cheeses, such as cheddar and Swiss, have more (110 to 125 calories and 8 to 9 grams fat per ounce) than others, such as soft goat cheese, feta and mozzarella (75 to 85 calories and 6 grams fat per ounce).

Use strong or savory cheeses. They have more flavor, so you don’t need as much. Use small amounts of grated fresh Parmesan or crumbled feta or blue cheese, for instance, in salads, soups, pastas, and vegetable dishes.

Reduced-fat, low-fat, and nonfat cheeses can be good choices if you eat more than an ounce a day, or if a recipe calls for large amounts of cheese. Many taste and melt better than they used to.

Watch the sodium. It typically ranges from about 100 to 300 milligrams an ounce, but some cheeses have more — as much as 500 milligrams in processed cheese. Others, such as Swiss and Gruyère, have less. Some low-sodium cheeses have as little as 5 milligrams of sodium per ounce.

Cooking with Cheese

Here some cheese-cooking questions and answers.

What is the best way to melt cheese? Cheese cut into small pieces or shredded promotes even melting in a shorter amount of time. When you add cheese to any recipe, cook on low heat, stirring constantly. When you are making a sauce with cheese in it, add cheese as the last ingredient and heat until just melted. Generally, processed cheese melts more smoothly than natural cheese.

What is the best temperature for serving cheese? The flavor of cheese is best when eaten at room temperature, so remove it from the refrigerator one to two hours in advance of serving time. It’s best to set out only the amount of cheese you will eat to prevent the cheese from becoming dry and tough from being repeatedly warmed and chilled.

What is the best way to shred cheese? Cheese will shred easier if well-chilled; it can also be placed in the freezer for 30 minutes before shredding.

Cheese Whiz Quiz

How much do you know about cheese? Take this quiz to see if you’re a cheesewhiz! 

True or False?
1. Cheese helps prevent cavities.
2. All cheeses have the same amount of calcium for a one-ounce serving.
3. Moldy cheese should be thrown away.
4. You can’t lose weight if you eat cheese.
5. There are unsafe cheeses for children.
6. Cream cheese counts as a dairy serving.
7. Eating cheese will give you heart disease.
Click here for the answers.

Althea Zanecosky is a national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and a nutrition communicator for the Mid Atlantic Dairy Association.

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