I had lots of good questions this week – green tea, soba noodles, and cheese. I saved cheese for last because it’s a tough one. Cheese is a food that many people crave and love, and it pairs well with so many different snacks and meals and beverages that sometimes we find ourselves eating too much of it. But, it’s just so good! So how do we find the right balance between enjoying a food we love and not getting too much fat and sodium?
Many of you know that I do not like to tell people they have to completely cut something they love out of their diet. In a perfect world maybe all of us would be eating a 100% clean diet, but that’s not very realistic or fun or interesting! So with cheese, as with many other foods, I recommend enjoying it in moderation. I also recommend buying the best quality cheese you can so that when you decide to eat some, it tastes that much better.
Cheese is made directly from milk by separating the curd from the whey and then aging the curd. Fresh cheese is very high in calcium, protein, vitamin A, fats, and other vitamins and minerals. However, it is also high in saturated fat, sodium and cholesterol, which many people tend to watch in their diets. For those who avoid products made from cow’s milk, goat’s milk cheese and sheep or goat’s milk feta are available and are a great alternative. Some of the lower-fat cheeses include mozzarella and other cheeses that are made from skim milk (it will say so on the label). These can be good for someone who loves cheese but is trying to reduce their overall fat intake.
When choosing your cheese, try to find the freshest and purest cheese you can. As you may have guessed, this does not include the individually wrapped “Kraft singles.” Those are awful! They don’t even taste good, so why bother with them? They are full of additives and artificial colors and are highly processed. All processed cheeses and cheese spreads are higher in fat and sodium than natural cheeses, and much lower in calcium, vitamins and minerals. Remember, when food is processed most of the vitamins and minerals are stripped out. Sometimes the company will fortify the food with specific vitamins, but it is not the naturally occurring vitamin you are eating. Most cheeses labeled “American” tend to be more highly processed and contain artificial ingredients. Other cheeses to stay away from include cheesy spreads and (even worse) cheese sprays.
Cream cheese is higher in fat and lower in protein and calcium than fresh cheese. Use sparingly! The powdered cheeses found in boxed macaroni are also unacceptable by my standards – sorry! But, making your own mac & cheese at home is easy and much more wholesome and delicious. Cottage cheese is high in protein and tends to be lower in fat and calories than other cheeses. This can be a good food to include every once in a while into your diet.
Try to choose cheeses such as mozzarella, feta, Brie, blue cheese, Swiss, parmesan, ricotta, cheddar, Monterey jack, Colby or goat cheese. These are all pure cheeses as long as you are buying them from a reputable company that does not add things to the cheese or highly process the cheese. The best places to buy fresh cheese are places like the farmer’s market, local health food stores, or directly from a dairy farm. Lately, we've been buying our cheese from In Season Local Market in Denver. It's all made at Colorado dairy farms and it's always delicious!
So, cheese isn’t bad and can contain some really great nutrients if you are buying fresh, wholesome cheese. Kids and adults love it, and it really does make many foods taste better. The biggest things with cheese are to avoid processed cheeses and to use all cheese sparingly.