Cheese Nutrition Corner

Jackie Newgent, RDN, CDN

Nutrient-Rich Swaps for the Holidays

Jackie Newgent is a New York City-based chef, registered dietitian nutritionist and media personality. She’s the author of The With or Without Meat Cookbook, 1,000 Low-Calorie Recipes, Big Green Cookbook, and the award-winning The All‐Natural Diabetes Cookbook. Jackie is also a recreational culinary instructor at the Institute of Culinary Education, professional recipe developer, and frequent contributor to Everyday with Rachel Ray magazine.

Diet quality matters. Science reports that nutrient-rich eating promotes health and reduces the risk of many chronic diseases. But in food terms, what exactly does “nutrient-rich” mean?

Nutrient-rich, also known as “nutrient-dense,” refers to foods that provide vitamins, minerals and other substances that may have positive health effects, with relatively few calories. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans advises us to focus on consuming nutrient-dense foods and beverages, and to build a healthful diet that includes all food groups.(1) As for dairy foods—the major source of calcium in our diets— studies suggest that eating cheese, milk, and yogurt is not only associated with better diet quality but also with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.(2) In other words, it’s about making your calories count by eating more healthful, whole foods and fewer highly processed foods— limiting “empty-calorie” foods and intake of refined grains, solid fats, added sugars, and sodium.

At the table, this translates to choosing simple, real ingredients and enjoying nutritious meals. For example, try eating whole grains, not refined grains; choosing 100% real, natural cheese, not pasteurized process cheese food; seasoning with grated citrus peel, not added salt; and savoring plain yogurt with fresh, seasonal fruit rather than prepackaged fruited yogurt with added sugars. The bonus: nutrient-rich eating can be delicious!

If you haven’t been following a nutrient-rich eating plan, is the holiday season a good time to start? Absolutely! Following a nutrient-rich eating plan is not a diet, and there’s no better time to begin eating well. It can be easy, too. Try these simple and tasty swaps for a more nutrient-dense makeover of popular holiday foods.

Before: Mashed Potatoes with Gravy
After: Mashed Potatoes Topped with Natural, Extra Sharp Shredded Cheddar Cheese
Tip: Sargento Traditional Cut Shredded Extra Sharp Cheddar Cheese adds lots of flavor plus kicks up the calcium in this velvety side dish--one serving (one-quarter cup) provides 20% of the Daily Value.

Before: Traditional Sweet Potato Casserole
After: Naturally-Sweetened Sweet Potato Casserole

Tip: When mashing or blending the sweet potatoes for the casserole, replace about half of the sugar and butter with unsweetened applesauce or apple-peach sauce— you’ll get equal tastiness with extra nutrition, including fiber and health-promoting phytochemicals.

Before: Old fashioned Stuffing
After: Whole-Grain Stuffing

Tip: Sometimes all you need to do is give one ingredient an upgrade—such as replacing white bread with whole wheat bread. Along with whole-grain goodness and a nuttier flavor, you’ll be getting more fiber—and satisfaction.

Before: Classic Green Bean Casserole Topped with French Fried Onions
After: Cheesy Green Bean Bake

Tip: Prepare the traditional casserole with low-fat milk instead of whole milk and stir in about 1/2 cup of Sargento Artisan Blends Shredded Swiss Cheese before baking for scrumptiousness without the need for topping with French fried onions. Plus, it provides a natural boost of protein and calcium.

Before: Pumpkin Pie with a Dollop of Whipped Cream
After: Pumpkin Pie with a Scoop of Frozen Whipped Banana

Tip: Blending frozen, fully-ripened banana slices in a food processor until creamy creates a unique, one-ingredient “ice cream.” Serve alongside a sliver of pie as a dazzling duo—and a natural source of potassium, a mineral that plays a role in controlling blood pressure because it lessens the effects of sodium.

So give a few of your dishes a simple nutrient-rich makeover. It will be a gift of healthier eating to you and your family this holiday season.

Source: (1) Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010, U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2) Dairy and Cardiovascular Disease: A Review of Recent Observational Research. Curr Nutr Rep. 2014; 3(2): 130–138.

Get the Real Facts

  • Slidetext

    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.

  • Slidetext

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

    Natural cheeses are gluten-free.

  • Slidetext

    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.

  • Slidetext

    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.

  • Slidetext

    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.

  • Slidetext

    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.