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Cheese, if You Please

6 ways to lighten up your favorite cheese dishes

Not a day goes by that I don’t enjoy a morsel or two of cheese. Maybe it’s my 100% Dutch genetics (Holland is a big cheese producer); maybe it’s my body craving calcium, since I’m not a big milk drinker.

Whatever the case, I always have several types of cheese in my refrigerator. I keep reduced-fat Jack and reduced-fat sharp cheddar in the cheese drawer of my fridge (because I make Mexican meals often). And I invariably have part-skim mozzarella and Parmesan shredded and ready to go (because I cook quick Italian cuisine even more often than Mexican).

Yes, it’s true; cheese is a source of fat, cholesterol, and, more important, saturated fat. While the biggest source of saturated fat and cholesterol in the American diet is the meat food group (including beef, processed meats, eggs, poultry, and other meats), the milk group (including cream and cheese) is No. 2.

But on the plus side, cheese is a great source of protein and calcium — two nutrients many of us need more of. Just 2 ounces of reduced-fat cheese will give you 40% to 50% of the recommended daily value for calcium and some 15 grams of protein, all for an investment of just 160 to 180 calories.

Two ounces of regular cheese will give you about the same amount of calcium and protein, but the calorie and fat price tag will be steeper:

  • 228 calories
  • 19 grams of fat (compared with 10 grams to 12 grams)
  • 12 grams of saturated fat (compared with 8 grams)
  • 50 to 60 milligrams of cholesterol (compared with 30-40 milligrams)

6 Tips for Cooking With Cheese

What about using cheese in recipes when you’re trying to eat less fat and saturated fat? You’ve got lots of choices here, folks. Here are 6 “Recipe Doctor” tips for cooking with cheese:

1. Cut fat and calories one of two ways: Use regular (full-fat) cheese, but just half the amount called for in the recipe (note that the protein and calcium will also be cut in half). Or, use the same amount of cheese the recipe calls for, but switch to a reduced-fat variety that tastes good and melts well. The calories go down by 30%, fat grams by about 40%, and saturated fat by a third. But the calcium and protein will still be high.

Continued

2. Sometimes real cheese counts. There are situations in which a particular type of cheese is needed for a recipe, and there’s no reduced-fat version available — as with Parmesan or Brie. In these recipes, I tend to use the “real” cheese. But sometimes I use less, and I try to cut back on fat and saturated fat in other steps and ingredients of the recipe.

3. High-flavor cheese to the rescue! When you switch to a high-flavor cheese, you can use less. I follow this strategy when I can’t use a reduced-fat cheese in a particular recipe. Some high-flavor cheeses that come to mind are:

  • Parmesan and Romano
  • Any smoked cheese
  • Bleu cheese, gorgonzola, or other pungent cheeses
  • Extra-sharp cheddar
  • Goat or feta cheese

4. Sprinkle, don’t smother. Often, recipes for casseroles or other mixed dishes call for a blanket of cheese over the top. Yet a sprinkling is enough to do the trick. I’m talking about a cup and a half of shredded cheese to cover a 9 x 13-inch baking dish, instead of 3 cups.

5. Pair cheese with healthy partners. Since cheese is a source of saturated fat, pair it with lower-fat and higher-fiber foods. Think pears, pasta, whole grains, beans, and vegetables instead of butter, high-fat crackers and pastries, and high-fat meats like salami or sausage.

6. Fat-free cheese may not please. I’ve personally never tasted a fat-free cheese I’ve liked, so if you’re looking to find one, proceed with caution. It isn’t going to melt like real cheese or taste like real cheese — it just isn’t. I’ve learned that manufacturers sometimes go too far when taking the fat out of food ingredients. When that happens, the fat-free food has very little in common — chemically or aesthetically — with the original food. Fat-free margarine, anyone?

Cheese Comparisons

There are lots of types of cheese out there in supermarket-land. You can even buy cheese made from soy milk or goats’ milk. And if your grocery store has a deli cheese section, you’ll find all sorts of imported and domestic cheese, from feta and farmers to Gouda and Gruyere.

Here are how a few of the more common options measure up nutritionally:

6 ways to lighten up your favorite cheese dishes

The Healthiest Cheeses You Can Buy, According to a Registered Dietitian

You can feel good about adding any of these delicious options to your next sandwich.

Seriously, is there any food grater (see what I did there?) than cheese? While it’s often maligned for being higher in saturated fat and sodium than other snacks or condiments, cheese is both delicious, filling, and nutritious — providing a slew of nutrients you need to feel fuller, longer, as well as giving key minerals you need for overall health. Plus, you don’t need much (about 1/4 cup or 1 ounce slice is between 80-110 calories depending on type and fat content). Consider adding these healthiest cheeses to meal or snack to make them more satisfying, delicious, and nutrient-dense.

This softer, less-aged cheese requires less salt than harder, aged cheeses, which makes it lower in sodium (most are less than 10% of the recommended daily intake of sodium).

At 200mg of calcium per serving, it’s also a nutrient-packed cheese that serves as a great source of the bone-building mineral and provides up to eight grams of protein per 1 ounce serving. Add some mozz to salads, as a topping on soups, sandwiches, or omelets, or pair with tomato and fresh basil with some olive oil for a delicious caprese salad.

As a semi-hard cheese made from cow’s milk, Swiss is a good option for someone looking for a cheese that is lower in fat and sodium. Keep in mind that brands will vary, so if you’re choosing this cheese for its lower sodium content, look or ones that are 140 mg of sodium or less per serving.

It is also higher in Vitamin B12 than most other cheeses, which is crucial for overall cell, muscle, and nerve function — and you’ll still get about 20% of your daily value for calcium! We love this classic on sandwiches or paired with fruit for a satisfying snack. Each slice hovers around 100 calories, so it’s a perfect afternoon pick-me-up.

Packed with nutrients, especially calcium and phosphorus, both of which are important for bone health. Additionally, harder cheese like parmesan tends to be lower in fat and higher in protein (about 9 grams per serving), and while they may also be higher in sodium, the beauty of a cheese like parm is that just a little goes a long way.

The aging of Parmesan also significantly reduces the lactose content of the cheese; making it a good option for those who suffer from lactose related GI symptoms.

While blue cheese tends to be higher in sodium, it provides more calcium than other options, which is a nutrient essential for optimal bone health. Much like parm, you’ll only need a few crumbles to add flavor to salads, soups, or any homemade appetizer.

Higher in protein than other cheeses while staying on the low end for calories, cottage cheese is a great choice for adding to meals and snacks. Cottage cheese also contain selenium, which is a key antioxidant that helps to reduce risk of chronic inflammation

An Italian cheese made from cow, goat, sheep, or buffalo milk, ricotta cheese contains mostly whey protein, which contains all of the essential amino acids. Whey protein has often been noted for promoting muscle growth and may aid in weight management as well as heart health.

Goat cheese may be easier for some people to digest than cheese made from cow’s milk. It’s naturally lower in lactose and contains A2 casein, which may be less likely to cause GI discomfort than the milk proteins found in cow’s milk. Great when added to salads, wraps, spread on toast or fruit with a drizzle of honey.

Whether you're looking for a cheese to help you with weight loss, or just a delicious piece to put on a sandwich, you can't go wrong ]]>