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The Scientific Quest for a “Healthy” Cheese Leaves us Flavorless

By Abra Pappa for Nutritious America

In a world of endless food “science” it isn’t terribly surprising that even the mighty cheese is subject to investigation, processing, and testing in an attempt to create a cheese-like-food-product that scientists will deem “healthier” by reducing sodium and fat. In this never ending quest to make all food “diet worthy” and eternal dieters “happy” there is no food spared from their turn in the science wheel. Yet, each time we’ve attempted to replace a natural, whole food with a processed version of the food the results of “health” have not exactly worked out.

Case in point: changing butter to margarine. The partially hydrogenated fats that were originally thought to be much healthier then butter’s saturated fat have since proved to be the exact opposite. Why would a “new” cheese be any better?

The average American consumes nearly 30 pounds of cheese per year; that is an awful lot of fat and salt. But, cheese is so much more than a block of fat and salt, it has a story, a life, a history.

If you have ever spent time with a cheese expert or any amount of time in a real cheese haven like Murray’s cheese shop in New York City, you may have been graced with some of the history and story behind cheese. Stories of generations of sheep farmers in France creating glorious cheese from humble resources, or small American artisinal cheese makers who, with a much shorter history of cheese making, are taking this culinary world by storm. Cheese has been consumed as a traditional food in many cultures for literally thousands and thousands of years, and yet it is just in the last 50+ years that we are seeing the steep decline in the health of people. It makes us ask, is cheese really to blame?

The average French person consumes nearly double the amount of cheese per year then an American and yet the French aren’t riddled with the health crisis Americans are in.

Regardless, in this country, the Dairy Research Institute is under immense pressure to produce a product with less sodium and fat that consumers will like. The results so far? Well in a way, I am proud of cheese. It is standing up to this testing and saying NO. If you want low-sodium, low-fat cheese, what you get is not cheese but something more akin to an eraser. Yum. Or at least that’s what Dr. Gregory Miller, president of the Dairy Research Institute had to say in last week’s New York Times article on this issue. Lloyd Metzger, a professor of dairy science at South Dakota State University said, “If you really want to make bad cheese, make a low-fat, low-sodium one.”

It may seem surprising that a nutritionist is not in favor of reducing salt and fat, but I am not convinced that salt and fat from real cheese is the problem. I also firmly believe that each food has its place in our lives and when it comes to cheese it is our duty to put some structure around its glory. As much as I would love to dive head first into a pool of Camembert each night, it isn’t the most health supportive behavior for me. But, when I do have cheese, I want the real thing and I want to savor and enjoy each morsel. I don’t want to waste my time, calories, or taste buds on something that has been manipulated and altered to somewhat resemble what food artisans have perfected over the years.

If the food scientists ever do succeed in making a less “eraser” tasting, low-sodium, low-fat cheese I can pretty much guarantee it will be preservative and chemical rich.

“One approach, is to put something else in to break up the protein network. Hydrocolloids — substances like carrageenan, which form a gel with water — are one possibility,” read the New York Times article. Those substances like Carrageenan will, in the end, always be more detrimental to your health then a little bit of fat.

As for me, I would much prefer a small quantity of a majestic manchego cheese over a large bucket of eraser cheese. But that’s just a crazy nutritionist talking.

Also Read:

How to Cook with Goat Cheese

Recipe for a Healthy Grilled Cheese Sandwich

Healthify Your Favorite Pizza Without Sacrificing Flavor

parmesan cheese image via BigStockPhoto.com

August 15th, 2012

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