By K. Aleisha Fetters for DETAILS.
Whether it's paired with wine or melted over a burger, cheese is where it's at. And not just because eating it makes life worth living.
Cheese is a nutritional powerhouse, rich in nutrients including protein, phosphorus, and don't forget calcium, says Jim White, R.D., spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and owner of Jim White Fitness training studios. It's the number-two source of calcium in the average American's diet.
Meanwhile, filling up on cheese could actually help you slim down. A 2015 study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, linked a diet rich in cheese with higher levels butyric acid, a compound that's linked to faster metabolisms and a decreased risk of obesity. That may be why the average Frenchman, who puts away 57 pounds of cheese a year, is slimmer and has a longer lifespan than the average American.
Want to make the most of your cheese habit? Opt for these eight varieties.
This hard, Italian cheese from sheep's milk is rich in CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) and may be linked to lower BMIs and risks of diabetes, cancer, and health-compromising inflammation, per a five-year study from Italian and US researchers. Make sure the label says "Pecorino Romano." The cheese version of "champagne," the variety is only allowed to be produced on Italy's islands of Sardinia, Lazio, and in the Tuscan Province of Grosseto. Keep in mind that cheese made from sheep's milk is also richer in calcium than cheese made from cow's milk, says dietician Georgie Fear, R.D., author of Lean Habits for Lifelong Weight Loss.
Like you needed an excuse to never eat singles again: Many of the "cheeses" in your dairy aisle aren't even technically cheese. Check the label. You'll probably either read "pasteurized process cheese," which, phew, means it's 100 percent cheese; "pasteurized process cheese food," which means it is at least 51 percent cheese; or "pasteurized process cheese product," which means it is less than 51 percent cheese, White explains. The rest? Often emulsifiers, vegetable oils, and additives that earn processed foods their generally horrible health rap.
Saturated fat isn't so bad after all. A 2015 study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that people who eat at least eight servings full-fat dairy per day have a 23 percent lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes compared to people who eat one or fewer servings per day. Just remember that two to three slices of cheese counts as a serving. Meanwhile, although some reduced- and fat-free cheeses are naturally low in fat, others contain added starches and gums to get the texture closer to that of the full-fat variety, Fear says.
"Ever heard the stereotype of body builders eating bowl after bowl of cottage cheese? There's a good reason for that," White says. A half-cup of cottage cheese contains 15 grams of filling, muscle-building protein. Also, in a 2014 BJM Open study of 612 cheeses, it was found to be the lowest-sodium variety. As a rule of thumb, cheeses that are soft and less aged tend to be low in sodium, he says.
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The little-bit-goes-a-long-way cheese is naturally strong in umami, the so-called "fifth taste," which, according to a 2015 study published in Flavour, makes low-fat foods taste better and possibly improves digestion and gut health.
If you're considering going organic, cheese is the place to start. Fat carries the largest doses of the hormones and antibiotics used in non-organic livestock. Meanwhile, a 2013 study in PLOS ONE found that organic dairy has 62 percent more heart-healthy omega 3 fatty acids than conventional milk.
Every pasta dish can benefit from some ricotta. A half-cup serving contains 14 grams of protein and 25 percent of your daily calcium needs, says White. It's also low in sodium and high in phosphorus, B vitamins, vitamin A, and zinc.
The worst thing that can happen to any cheese lover: Lactose intolerance. Luckily, aged cheeses like aged cheddar contain relatively low levels of lactose, White says. Many people with lactose intolerance can actually eat them just fine.
(photos: Getty Images)
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