1-2-3 say “Cheese” for American Cheese Month!
May is the Month to Celebrate American-Made Cheeses!
This month recognizes cheese makers, retailers, and the 2,000 types of cheeses produced in the United States, including those made right here in Oregon. Approximately one-third of the milk produced in America is used to make cheese and, although many enjoy this versatile ingredient as a delicious add-on to meals and snacks, there are some surprising benefits to adding cheese as part of a healthy diet. We’ll dive into some of the health benefits of cheese, but first, let’s explore a lesson in cheesemaking 101:
How Cheese Is Made
Cheese has four main ingredients: milk, “good bacteria,” salt, and rennet. Processing begins with milk being filtered and adjusted for more fat, protein, and cream. The milk is pasteurized to prevent the growth of bacteria. Next, “good bacteria” is added to allow for flavor and texture, also known as a “started culture.” Following the culture is rennet, an enzyme used to separate curd and whey. Once the curd and whey are separated, the curd is pressed, allowing for the shape and consistency to form.
Nutrition Profile and Health Benefits of Cheese
Cheese is a highly nutritious food category containing essential nutrients, including iodine, protein, calcium, vitamin B12, phosphorous, selenium, riboflavin, and niacin. These nutrients are key to keeping our bodies strong and functioning properly.
In addition to providing essential nutrition, cheese consumption has also been making headway in studies examining its effect on chronic disease. Recent research has supported moderate consumption of cheese having a neutral or beneficial effect on the prevention of chronic illness, such as cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. In a recent 2022 study, cheese consumption was found to have beneficial associations with certain heart disease and diabetes risk factors, including BMI, waist circumference, triglycerides, and fasting blood sugar.
In addition to its role in chronic disease prevention as part of a healthy diet, cheese has also been shown to promote muscle development and growth in physically active individuals. Cheese contains all the essential amino acids needed for muscles’ building blocks. Its protein-dense content gives lean body mass the tools needed to recover and grow after exercise, especially following strength or resistance-based activities.
Cheese and Lactose Intolerance
Let’s bust this myth about cheese and lactose intolerance: “I have to give up cheese if I am lactose intolerant.”
This is, in fact, not true! Many cheeses contain little to no lactose. This is because during the cheesemaking process when curds and whey are separated, most of the lactose stays with the whey. As part of the natural aging process, the remaining lactose is digested by enzymes The harder (aged) cheese is, the less lactose it contains. In fact, natural cheeses such as Swiss and Mozzarella contain less than 1 gram per 1.5 oz. American cheese has less than 1.2 grams per 2 oz. Learn more about how you can enjoy dairy products while being lactose intolerant here!
Play with cheese!
Here are some ideas for cooking with cheese! Fill up your stomach with delicious and fun dishes like cheese pizza with cauliflower crust or chili cheese hominy.
About the Author | Tiffany Nguyen
Tiffany is an intern in the Oregon State University dietetic internship program. She graduated from California State University, Los Angeles in 2022 with a Master’s degree in Nutritional Science. Her professional interests include health and wellness promotion, informatics, counseling, and a holistic approach to nutrition in the field of dietetics. In her spare time, she enjoys spending time with her family and friends, taking part in outdoor activities, and traveling.
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