Energy value (calories per serving): Moderate to high
Protein: Moderate to high
Fat: Low to high Saturated fat: High Cholesterol: Low to high Carbohydrates: Low Fiber: None
Major vitamin contribution: Vitamin A, vitamin D, B vitamins
Major mineral contribution: Calcium
About the Nutrients in This Food
Cheese making begins when Lactobacilli and/or Streptococci bacteria are added to milk. The bacteria digest lactose (milk sugar) and release lactic acid, which coagulates casein (milk protein) into curds. Rennet (gastric enzymes extracted from the stomach of calves) is added, and the mixture is put aside to set. The longer the curds are left to set, the firmer the cheese will be. When the curds are properly firm, they are pressed to squeeze out the whey (liquid) and cooked. Cooking evaporates even more liquid and makes the cheese even firmer.*
At this point, the product is “fresh” or “green” cheese: cottage cheese, cream cheese, farmer cheese. Making “ripe” cheese requires the addition of salt to pull out more moisture and specific organisms, such as Penicil– lium roquefort for Roquefort cheese, blue cheese, and Stilton, or Penicillium cambembert for Camembert and Brie.
The nutritional value of cheese is similar to the milk from which it is made. All cheese is a good source of high quality proteins with sufficient amounts of all the essential amino acids. Cheese is low to high in fat, mod- erate to high in cholesterol.
* Natural cheese is cheese made direct ly from milk. Processed cheese is natural cheese melted and combined wit h emulsifiers. Pasteurized process cheese foods contain ingredients t hat allow t hem to spread smoot hly; t hey are lower in fat and higher in moisture t han processed cheese.
Cholesterol and Saturated Fat Content of Selected Cheeses
Source: USDA, Nutritive Value of Foods, Home and Garden Bullet in No. 72 (USDA, 1989).
All cheeses, except cottage cheese, are good sources of vitamin A. Orange and yellow cheeses are colored with carotenoid pigments, including bixin (the carotenoid pigment in annatto) and synthetic beta-carotene.
Hard cheeses are an excellent source of calcium; softer cheeses are a good source; cream cheese and cottage cheese are poor sources. The R DA for calcium is 1,000 mg for a woman, 1,200 mg for a man, and 1,500 mg for an older woman who is not on hormone- replacement therapy. All cheese, unless otherwise labeled, is high in sodium.
|Calcium Content of Cheese|
|Pasteurized processed American||oz.||174|
Source: Nutritive Value of Foods, Home and Gardens Bullet in No. 72 (USDA, 1989).
The Most Nutritious Way to Serve This Food
With grains, bread, noodles, beans, nuts, or vegetables to add the essential amino acids miss- ing from these foods, “complete” their proteins, and make them more nutritionally valuable.
Diets That May Restrict or Exclude This Food
Controlled-fat, low-cholesterol diet
Lactose- and galactose-free diet (lactose, a disaccharide [double sugar] is composed of one unit of galactose and one unit of glucose)
Low-calcium diet (for patients with kidney disease) Sucrose-free diet (processed cheese)
Buying This Food
Look for: Cheese stored in a refrigerated case. Check the date on the package.
Avoid: Any cheese with mold that is not an integral part of the food.
Storing This Food
Refrigerate all cheese except unopened canned cheeses (such as Camembert in tins) or grated cheeses treated with preservatives and labeled to show that they can be kept outside the refrigerator. Some sealed packages of processed cheeses can be stored at room temperature but must be refrigerated once the package is opened.
Wrap cheeses tightly to protect them from contamination by other microorganisms in the air and to keep them from drying out. Well-wrapped, refrigerated hard cheeses that have not been cut or sliced will keep for up to six months; sliced hard cheeses will keep for about two weeks. Soft cheeses (cottage cheese, ricotta, cream cheese, and Neufchatel) should be used within five to seven days. Use all packaged or processed cheeses by the date stamped on the package.
Throw out moldy cheese (unless the mold is an integral part of the cheese, as with blue cheese or Stilton).
Preparing This Food
To grate cheese, chill the cheese so it won’t stick to the grater.
The molecules that give cheese its taste and aroma are largely immobilized when the cheese is cold. When serving cheese with fruit or crackers, bring it to room temperature to activate these molecules.
What Happens When You Cook This Food
Heat changes the structure of proteins. The molecules are denatured, which means that they may be broken into smaller fragments or change shape or clump together. All of these changes may force moisture out of the protein tissue, which is why overcooked cheese is often stringy. Whey proteins, which do not clump or string at low temperatures, contain the sulfur atoms that give hot or burned cheese an unpleasant “cooked” odor. To avoid both strings and an unpleasant odor, add cheese to sauces at the last minute and cook just long enough to melt the cheese.
How Other Kinds of Processing Affect This Food
Freezing. All cheese loses moisture when frozen, so semisoft cheeses will freeze and thaw better than hard cheeses, which may be crumbly when defrosted.
Drying. The less moisture cheese contains, the less able it is to support the growth of organ- isms like mold. Dried cheeses keep significantly longer than ordinary cheeses.
Medical Uses and/or Benefits
To strengthen bones and reduce age-related loss of bone density. High-calcium foods protect bone density. The current recommended dietary allowance (R DA) for calcium is still 800 mg for adults 25 and older, but a 1984 National Institutes of Health (NIH) Conference advisory stated that lifelong protection for bones requires an R DA of 1,000 mg for healthy men and women age 25 to 50 ; 1,000 mg for older women using hormone replacement therapy; and 1,500 mg for older women who are not using hormones, and these recommendations have been confirmed in a 1994 NIH Consensus Statement on optimal calcium intake. A diet with adequate amounts of calcium-rich foods helps protect bone density. Low-fat and no-fat cheeses provide calcium without excess fat and cholesterol.
Protection against tooth decay. Studies at the University of Iowa (Iowa City) Dental School confirm that a wide variety of cheeses, including aged cheddar, Edam, Gouda, Monterey Jack, Muenster, mozzarella, Port Salut, Roquefort, Romano, Stilton, Swiss, and Tilsit—limit the tooth decay ordinarily expected when sugar becomes trapped in plaque, the sticky film on tooth surfaces where cavity-causing bacteria flourish. In a related experiment using only cheddar cheese, people who ate cheddar four times a day over a two-week period showed a 20 percent buildup of strengthening minerals on the surface of synthetic toothlike material attached to the root surfaces of natural teeth.
Protection against periodontal disease. A report in the January 2008 issue of the Journal of Periodontology suggests that consuming adequate amounts of dairy products may reduce the risk of developing periodontal disease. Examining the dental health of 942 subjects ages 40 to 79, researchers at Kyushu University, in Japan, discovered that those whose diets regularly included two ounces (55 g) of foods containing lactic acid (milk, cheese, and yogurt) were significantly less likely to have deep “pockets” (loss of attachment of tooth to gum) than those who consumed fewer dairy products.
Adverse Effects Associated with This Food
Increased risk of heart disease. Like other foods from animals, cheese is a source of choles- terol and saturated fats, which increase the amount of cholesterol circulating in your blood and raise your risk of heart disease. To reduce the risk of heart disease, the USDA /Health and Human Services Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends limiting the amount of cholesterol in your diet to no more than 300 mg a day. The guidelines also recommend limit- ing the amount of fat you consume to no more than 30 percent of your total calories, while holding your consumption of saturated fats to more than 10 percent of your total calories (the calories from saturated fats are counted as part of the total calories from fat).
Food poisoning. Cheese made from raw (unpasteurized) milk may contain hazardous microorganisms, including Salmonella and Listeria. Salmonella causes serious gastric upset; Lis– teria, a flulike infection, encephalitis, or blood infection. Both may be life-threatening to the very young, the very old, pregnant women, and those whose immune systems are weakened either by illness (such as AIDS) or drugs (such as cancer chemotherapy). In 1998, the Federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released data identif ying Listeria as the cause of nearly half the reported deaths from food poisoning.
Allergy to milk proteins. Milk is one of the foods most frequently implicated as a cause of allergic reactions, particularly upset stomach. However, in many cases the reaction is not a true allergy but the result of lactose intolerance (see below).
Lactose intolerance. Lactose intolerance—the inability to digest the sugar in milk—is an inherited metabolic deficiency that affects two thirds of all adults, including 90 to 95 percent of all Orientals, 70 to 75 percent of all blacks, and 6 to 8 percent of Caucasians. These people do not have sufficient amounts of lactase, the enzyme that breaks the disaccharide lactose into its easily digested components, galactose and glucose. When they drink milk, the undi- gested sugar is fermented by bacteria in the gut, causing bloating, diarrhea, flatulence, and intestinal discomfort. Some milk is now sold with added lactase to digest the lactose and make the milk usable for lactase-deficient people. In making cheese, most of the lactose in milk is broken down into glucose and galactose. There is very little lactose in cheeses other than the fresh ones—cottage cheese, cream cheese, and farmer cheese.
Galactosemia. Galactosemia is an inherited metabolic disorder in which the body lacks the enzymes needed to metabolize galactose, a component of lactose. Galactosemia is a reces- sive trait; you must receive the gene from both parents to develop the condition. Babies born with galactosemia will fail to thrive and may develop brain damage or cataracts if they are given milk. To prevent this, children with galactosemia are usually kept on a protective milk- free diet for several years, until their bodies have developed alternative pathways by which
to metabolize galactose. Pregnant women who are known carriers of galactosemia may be advised to give up milk and milk products while pregnant lest the unmetabolized galactose in their bodies cause brain damage to the fetus (damage not detectable by amniocentesis). Genetic counseling is available to identif y galactosemia carriers and assess their chances of producing a baby with the disorder.
Penicillin sensitivity. People who experience a sensitivity reaction the first time they take penicillin may have been sensitized by exposure to the Penicillium molds in the environment, including the Penicillium molds used to make brie, blue, camembert, roquefort, Stilton, and other “blue” cheeses.
Tetracycline. The calcium ions in milk products, including cheese, bind tetracyclines into insoluble compounds. If you take tetracyclines with cheese, your body may not be able to absorb and use the drug efficiently.
Monoamine oxidase (MAO) inhibitors. Monoamine oxidase inhibitors are drugs used to treat depression. They inactivate naturally occurring enzymes in your body that metabolize tyra- mine, a substance found in many fermented or aged foods. Tyramine constricts blood ves- sels and increases blood pressure. If you eat a food such as aged or fermented cheese which is high in tyramine while you are taking an M AO inhibitor, your body may not be able to eliminate the tyramine. The result may be a hypertensive crisis.
Tyramine Content of Cheeses
Boursault, Camembert, Cheddar, Emmenthaler, Stilton
Medium to high
Blue, brick, Brie, Gruyère, mozzarella, Parmesan, Romano, Roquefort
Processed American cheese
Very little or none
Cottage and cream cheese
Sources: The Medical Letter Handbook of Adverse Drug Interactions (1985); Handbook of Clinical
Dietetics ( The A merican Dietet ic Associat ion, 1981).
False-positive test for pheochromocytoma. Pheochromocytomas (tumors of the adrenal glands) secrete adrenalin that is converted by the body to vanillyl-mandelic acid ( VM A) and excreted in the urine. Tests for this tumor measure the level of VM A in the urine. Since cheese contains VM A, taking the test after eating cheese may result in a false-positive result. Ordinarily, cheese is prohibited for at least 72 hours before this diagnostic test.