Cheese Nutrition Corner

Pat Groziak

Taking a Real, Simple Approach to Healthful Eating

How do you define food quality? If words like “real,” “fresh,” “natural,” “less processed,” “nothing artificial,” or “simple ingredients” come to mind, you’re not alone. Consumer research confirms that Americans are reconnecting with and becoming more actively involved in food—seeking fresh, whole foods that are rich in nutrients and enjoyment to help satisfy both their physical and emotional well-being. Here are a few fall “clean-up” tips that can help refresh your diet for the upcoming season.

 

Choose more real, wholesome foods. When you focus on filling your plate with nutrient-rich foods like fruits and vegetables (fresh, frozen or canned), beans and peas (legumes), whole grains, dairy products, lean meats, seafood, nuts and seeds, you not only get the nutrients you need but also spend less time thinking about highly-processed, less nutritious foods. As one of the five food groups, dairy foods in total—milk and foods made from milk, including cheese and yogurt— supply nine essential nutrients and are the major source of calcium in our diets. And in addition to being a nutrient-rich dairy product, natural cheese, with its variety of flavors and forms—sliced, shredded or snacks—adds satisfying taste and texture to meals and snacks.

Read nutrition labels. In addition to reading the Nutrition Facts label for serving size and nutrition information, look for foods with the simplest, shortest ingredient lists when comparing foods within the same category. For example, consider the dairy aisle, which contains a wide assortment of milks, cheeses, yogurts and butters that vary in nutritional content and ingredients—and more specifically, the choice in the cheese section between natural or processed. Natural cheese—which is 100% real cheese, cut directly from the block—is made from four simple ingredients: milk, salt, starter culture (“good” bacteria) and a natural enzyme called rennet, which separates curds from whey. By comparison, pasteurized process cheese food often contains up to 15 ingredients and is only required to contain 51% real cheese.

Good habits start at home. Cooking meals at home gives you control over your choice of ingredients, and starting with real, fresh ingredients makes for higher quality, more nutritious and tastier meals. In addition to focusing on the ingredients and the meal itself, family mealtimes also allow you to focus on each other, providing the added benefit of quality family time. While cooking does require some time and planning, there are plenty of simple recipes using real, wholesome ingredients that can be made in 30 minutes or less—including prep time! For example, try the sweet and savory combination of the Arugula Salad with Cheddar, Dates and Toasted Walnuts as a tasty side salad or meatless main dish. Or serve up some warmth on a cool, fall day with Cheddar Corn Chowder, which combines a medley of fresh vegetables with the savory flavor of Sargento Shredded Mild Cheddar, or the Cheesy Chicken Chili with fiber-rich great northern beans and Sargento Fine Cut Shredded Colby-Jack Cheese.

So, regardless of where you are on your health and wellness journey, remember that keeping it real and simple can be nutritious and delicious!

Get the Real Facts

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    If you are lactose intolerant, you do not need to avoid cheese.

    When cheese is made, 96-98 percent of the lactose in the milk is removed, so cheese can be an important source of calcium for people with lactose intolerance. Natural cheeses such as Cheddar, Colby, Monterey Jack, Mozzarella, and Swiss contain minimal amounts of lactose.

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    You can eat cheese if you're following a gluten-free diet.

    Natural cheeses are gluten-free.

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    Natural cheese is made with 4 ingredients.

    Natural cheese is made from four basic ingredients: milk, salt, starter culture (“good” bacteria) and a natural enzyme called rennet, which separates curds from whey.

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    Cheese is a source of protein.

    Cheese provides a source of high-quality protein. High-quality protein, or complete protein, contains all the essential amino acids in the appropriate amounts needed by the body. Emerging research continues to support the important role of high-quality protein in promoting optimal health.

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    Cheese is a food that can fit into many healthful diet plans.

    Cheese is a nutrient-rich food available in a wide variety of forms and flavors that fit easily into many healthful meal plans, including the Mediterranean, Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH), diabetic, gluten free, vegetarian, and low lactose.

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    Cheese is not a major source of sodium in the American diet.

    The majority of sodium in the U.S. diet (92%) comes from sources other than cheese. Cheese contributes only 8% of the sodium.4

    4. Hentges E. Sources of sodium in the food supply. Paper presented at the Institute of Medicine Committee on Strategies to Reduce Sodium Intake. Information-Gathering Workshop; 2009; Washington, D.C.

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