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Health Benefits of Dairy

Cheese can be made from whole, low-fat, or skim milk or combinations of these. Regardless of the type of milk used to create it, cheese is a concentrated source of the nutrients naturally found in milk, including calcium. Indeed, many cheeses provide 200 to 300 milligrams of calcium per ounce.

"Low-fat cheese" used to be an oxymoron. No more. Today, there are dozens of reduced-fat, low-fat, and fat-free versions of American, cheddar, mozzarella, Swiss, and other cheeses that you may find worth biting into. Fat in this new generation of cheeses has been cut anywhere from 25 to 100 percent. The average fat reduction is about 30 percent. Most of these contain added gums and stabilizers that help simulate the creamy texture and rich taste of full-fat cheeses.

The taste and texture of lower-fat cheeses vary considerably. Some people find them fine substitutes for the full-fat varieties, while other folks don't, preferring to forgo cheese rather than settle for a low-fat substitute. Cheese connoisseurs will probably never be true fans of reduced-fat cheeses, but if you're trying to cut back on saturated fat and cholesterol, they do offer alternatives.

The one nutritional drawback of reduced-fat cheeses is that they are usually higher in sodium than full-fat natural cheeses. An ounce of regular Swiss cheese, for example, contains only about 74 milligrams of sodium. A reduced-fat Swiss may contain 300 to 400 milligrams or more
per ounce.

Are reduced-fat cheeses the answer for a diet hopelessly high in fat? Hardly. Unless you're a big cheese eater, chances are other elements of your diet -- such as fatty meats, whole milk, buttery muffins and croissants, chips, and ice cream -- are more in need of a good fat-trimming. But substituting reduced-fat for full-fat cheese can't hurt. When it comes to the war on fat, every gram counts.

Another option for cheese lovers is to use strong-flavored cheeses, such as Parmesan, blue, or gorgonzola. With these, a little can go a long way in terms of adding flavor.

Cheese Selection and Storage

Many cheeses have considerably more fat per serving than a cup of milk. When shopping for lower-fat cheeses, here's what the label will tell you:
  • Low-fat cheese: three grams or less of fat per one-ounce serving
  • Reduced-fat cheese: 25 percent less fat than the same full-fat cheese
  • Fat-free cheese: less than 0.5 gram of fat per one-ounce serving.
For reduced-fat cheeses, opt for varieties that provide no more than five grams of fat per ounce. Regular cheeses provide eight to nine grams per ounce. Brands vary a lot in taste and texture. Shop around until you find one you like. You're better off choosing a reduced-fat cheese based on taste and then trying it in recipes. Remember, the less fat a cheese contains, the harder it is to use in cooking.

Because of their high moisture content, lower-fat cheeses turn moldy more quickly than their full-fat counterparts. Keep them well wrapped in the refrigerator, and use them as soon as possible.

Cooking with Cheese

In general, the further you get from traditional cheese in terms of fat content, the more careful you have to be about applying heat. It's the high fat content of regular cheese, generally about 70 percent of its calories, that gives full-fat cheese its smooth, creamy texture and allows it to melt easily.

When you reduce the fat content, the cheese becomes less pliable and more difficult to melt. The lower the fat content, the tougher the melting problem becomes. Trying to make a cheese sauce with a reduced-fat cheese can truly be an exercise in futility because the product is prone to breaking down into a clumpy, stringy mess.

Nonfat cheeses are best served "as is" in unheated sandwiches or in salads. They generally have milder flavors than regular cheeses and sometimes have what cheese purists sometimes describe as slightly "off " flavors.

To lighten the calorie and fat load of recipes without dramatically altering the flavor or texture, try replacing one-half to two-thirds of a full-fat cheese with a reduced-fat variety. Grated cheese blends best. Or combine a small amount of full-fat, full-bodied cheese like extra sharp cheddar or Parmesan with a reduced-fat cheese. A little full-fat cheese can go a long way toward improving the flavor of the dish. Most reduced-fat cheeses melt smoothly when they are layered in a casserole; the layers serve as insulation and help prevent the cheese from separating or becoming stringy.

The lower the amount of fat in a cheese, the longer it takes to melt and the more likely it is to produce a "skin" and scorch when baked. To counter this problem, top casseroles and baked pasta dishes with reduced-fat cheese only near the end of the baking time, and heat until just melted. Serve immediately.

Meltability on top of dishes like casseroles or pizzas varies among varieties of reduced-fat cheeses just as it does among traditional cheeses. You may find, for example, that a fat-reduced mozzarella melts much more smoothly than a fat-reduced cheddar. Meltability, texture, and taste may also vary among brands within a variety. Therefore, you'll probably need to do some shopping around and some experimenting to determine which varieties and which brands suit your needs and tastes in various situations; you'll probably prefer some kinds for snacking and other kinds for cooking or as toppings.

Yogurt is another major source of calcium that can strengthen the body. In the next section, let's review its benefits and the best ways to include it in your daily diet.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.