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Welcome To The New Big Cheese

Quick, here’s a quiz. What is the no. 1 source of saturated fat in the American diet? Beef? Butter? Say “cheese.” That’s right: Cheese is the big winner — or maybe the big loser — in terms of saturated fat content.

Americans consume an average of 25.5 grams of saturated fat a day, which is at least 5 grams more than we should. for those on a 2,000 calorie diet, the goal is to consume no more than 20 grams of saturated fat per day.

Saturated fat intake is linked to high serum cholesterol levels and increased risk of coronary heart disease and stroke. According to the Centers for Disease Control, heart disease is the no. 1 killer of both men and women in the United States. it claims about 650,000 lives a year, but it also impacts worker productivity and quality of life.

Reducing consumption of total fat to meet dietary recommendations of 65 grams per day, eliminating trans fats entirely and limiting saturated fat in your diet need not be painful. in fact, small changes maintained over a lifetime can yield big results: reduced risk of heart disease and other diet-related conditions, such as diabetes, hypertension and obesity.

Americans have been hearing the message to reduce red meat in their diet, but the cheese message is a slow melt. Consumers often accept low-fat versions of mozzarella, Swiss cheese and cottage cheese. Neufatel or low-fat cream cheese is easy to find, and with one-third fewer calories, it tastes just as rich and creamy as the original version.

Cheddar is another story … or is it? Historically, low-fat cheese lacked flavor and had a rubbery texture that consumers rejected wholeheartedly. Luckily, cheese manufacturers have been busy creating tastier options. Reduced-fat cheese has 50 percent of the saturated fat of the full version, and a 1-ounce serving contains 20 percent of your daily calcium and 8 grams of protein (versus 7 grams in the full-fat version).

In a national taste test, Cabot Cheese, our neighbor to the north, earned top honors for the best reduced-fat cheddar cheese. Cabot also produces a reduced-fat pepper jack and reduced-fat jalapeno cheddar with a little more zip. Kraft’s Cracker Barrel 2 percent Cheddar is another tasty option.

Consider using reduced-fat cheese in recipes where you are less likely to notice any difference, such as casseroles, salads and hot sandwiches. if you are reluctant, consider using half of each version in your recipe. no one will notice.

One criticism of reduced-fat cheese is that it doesn’t melt as well. it might just be a matter of proper technique and temperature. it melts best at a lower temperature and a slightly longer period of time. High temps over 400 degrees can result in browning and drying, which compromise taste and appearance.

Keep in mind that reduced-fat cheese still contains significant amounts of saturated fat, and switching does not mean you need to have a larger serving! Moderation is still key.

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