Cheese: A Healthy Choice
Cheese is supposed to be bad for you right? No, not necessarily. For many people, cheese has a reputation for being unhealthy. There are different reasons for this. Some people say fat content while others say salt content. In general cheese has become know as an unhealthy food. This is unfortunate because cheese actually isn’t that bad for your health and it actually has a lot of very compelling benefits. It isn’t a 100% natural food but it isn’t too far off. How natural it is depends on whether or not it is real cheese ( more on that below ).
Sure, cheese does have fat but not as much as you would think and not even necessarily in the worst ratios either. More importantly than this, fats themselves aren’t even all that bad when taken in normal amounts. People actually need certain amounts of fats for optimum health. People don’t necessarily become fat by eating foods with fat. These foods will tend to have higher calories but that doesn’t mean you would want to cut them out all together. So long as you keep your diet balanced and keep your calories in check, it really doesn’t hurt to consume fats. It is better to focus on sticking to natural foods or at least to get closer to this.
While you don’t want to go overboard with the amount of fat in your diet you don’t have to be paranoid about having a little bit in your food. Fats in general don’t really cause obesity or heart disease by them selves. This is a myth that goes back to old marketing campaigns. These days people just assume it is true. The real enemy is sugar, simple carbs, and processed foods. I’m not saying that you should cut out all carbs either. Just try to avoid simple carbs and processed foods in general. The other two causes for obesity are higher calorie intake caused by just plain eating too much and a sedentary lifestyle. People in many countries eat more cheese and have lower rates of obesity that Americans.
Great Nutrition and Vitamins
Cheese also has a lot of nutrition and a bunch of other stuff that is very healthy for us. Cheese is great for nutrients. Not only that but it can enhance the absorption of nutrients from other foods. Cheese is actually great for your heart. It is provides important nutrition to promote the health of your brain. Probably, not surprisingly, it is great for your bones since it is made from milk and loaded with calcium. This is another, often overlooked category of natural foods that has been cast in a bad light when it has a lot to offer.
Cheese is a great source of omega-3 fats. These have a huge number of benefits. People often times go out of their way to consume them either in pill form or by eating fish. People don’t usually think of cheese when the think of omega-3 fats but this is another place you can get them.
Cheese is a great source of good quality protein. It includes a lot of amino acids which are the critical measurement when selecting a protein source. Things that are animal based will tend to have a better selection of amino acids and cheese is no exception.
If you want vitamins and minerals, cheese is a great way to get a huge assortment of them. It is, of course, a great source of calcium. It can also give you zinc and phosphorus. It gives you vitamins A, D, B2 and even vitamin B12. One Vitamin that stands out is Vitamin K2. This is a vitamin that has only recently started to be well understood by scientists and the public. It can be converted from K1 by bacteria and other functions but is important enough to be considered an whole different vitamin by itself. Originally it was though to just help the body with clotting/coagulation but has been found to have a lot of other properties too. It helps the body bind calcium to bones. It can help prevent cancer, notably prostate cancer. It promotes heart health, skin health, and helps promote brain function among other things. Cheese is a great choice when looking at natural foods.
Remember, while you can get these vitamins from a pill ( you still should do that ) your body will absorb them better from the food you eat. You should definitely keep taking vitamins but you should also get your vitamins the natural way, from the food you eat, as nature intended.
Another great natural benefit of cheese is that it contains conjugated linoleic acids (CLA). These are known to boost metabolism and fight cancer. They are still being researched ( not a proven magic cancer cure or anything ) but if you want to reduce your chances of getting cancer, it wouldn’t hurt to have this in your diet.
Natural Cheese and its Evil Twin Fake Cheese
Before jumping into the wonder world of cheese, everyone should be aware of the existence of fake cheese. It is important to distinguish between fake cheese and real cheese.
Real cheese isn’t anything anything too complicated and doesn’t need to be synthesized in a lab or anything crazy like that. It is basically just a fermented dairy product that people have been making for thousands of years since ancient times before pasteurization even existed. Real cheese isn’t a natural food in the sense that it grows on trees by itself but it isn’t completely artificial either. It takes a minimal amount of processing.
Real cheese, for the most part, only needs to contain a few things. It contains milk and a starter culture. It contains a little bit of salt and an enzyme called rennet. The salt helps it ripen and adds flavor. It also helps to preserve the cheese.
One thing to note is that real cheese does require refrigeration. With real cheese you will find different varieties, not just generic cheese. Examples of these would be Cheddar, Swiss, and Gouda. These aren’t brand names. These are the actual cheese variety.
Different varieties of cheese will be made with differently. They will use different starter cultures and different methods to produce the cheese. Both of these things will affect the taste and texture. These methods also affect the shape of the cheese and its nutritional profile. The starter culture will be different bacteria or mold strains. These are basically the natural starter for cheese. The methods used to make cheese include the methods of curdling, cutting, cooking, forming curd. These are affected by all sorts of different variables including temperature, humidity, and aging time needed for curing.
Milk and Cattle
Going beyond all of these things we should take a look at the most important primary ingredient of cheese, milk. This is what makes cheese a natural food even though it is technically processed to a degree. I would still group cheese with natural foods, so long as it is a real cheese and not fake. The first thing to consider is the type of milk used. Is it from a cow or a goat? The milk used could be from many different animals, even sheep. The type of animal will be the first determining factor in the type of cheese. The next thing to consider is how the animal was raised. Ideally, if the animal was grass fed it will produce better and more nutritious milk than an animal that was grain fed. When animals are feed grass, the way nature intended, they will produce better milk and that will produce better cheese. Better quality milk generally translates into better quality cheese. What the animal eats isn’t the only thing that makes a difference. Another important factor is whether the animal was raised naturally, in a pasture or kept in a stall. This does make a difference though it usually goes hand in hand with being fed grass. Ideally, you would want to avoid milk from animals that were fed with either grain or soy and kept in a stall.
Here is a little bit to consider about grass fed versus grain fed cattle. Grass fed cattle will have an omega-6 to omega-3 ratio of 2-1 which is pretty good. Grain fed cattle will have an omega-6 to omega-3 ratio of 25-1. This is much less desirable because it contains too much omega-6. Another advantage of milk from grass fed cattle is that they will have 5 times as much CLA. This goes to show that the differences in what cattle eat do affect quality in a very real and measurable way.
Fake cheese is typically going to be pasteurized, although this by itself isn’t enough to make a cheese fake. Fake cheeses are not based only on the simple ingredients listed above. They will normally contain a bunch of other things. The include additives like sodium phosphate and sodium citronate. Beyond this they will even contain things like coloring agents. One tip off that you are looking at fake cheese is that it usually will not require refrigeration. These cheeses contain way more salt. Fake cheese should not be considered a natural food.
When companies produce fake cheese, they first start out with a certain percentage of real cheese. This real cheese is ground into powder, emulsified, and melted. It is then mixed with preservatives, extra salt, artificial colors, artificial flavors, and fillers. Fillers include things like starch and cellulose. Cellulose is basically powdered wood pulp that has been chemically separated. As terrible as this sounds, it has been deemed to be natural and can even be included in foods that are labeled organic. Personally, I wouldn’t consider any food that has wood pulp added to it to be a natural food. To be fair though, cellulose by itself isn’t all that unhealthy and could even have its benefits, like added fiber. Personally, I would rather have an extra stick of celery on the side with my cheese rather than have wood pulp mixed into it.
As a general rule, cheese made from pasteurized milk isn’t as good as cheese made from raw milk. The same goes for the milk itself, of course. The pasteurizing process destroys a lot of desirable enzymes. It also destroys a lot of good bacteria that improve health an flavor. Pasteurized milk and cheese is going to have a less rich flavor than its raw counterpart. It will also have lower nutrition. The goal of pasteurizing is kill potentially harmful bacteria and make milk and cheese safer. Statistics have shown this to not be necessary. The supposed safety benefits are questionable and probably don’t outweigh the nutritional considerations. I would recommend going the natural way and going raw in this case but everyone has to make their won decision.