Hot, gooey, melted cheese. For some, this stuff is what their food porn dreams are made of. Is there a better evening snack than a perfectly grilled cheese sandwich on a wintry or rain-drenched evening? We think not. However, there are others (who are you, people? ), who stay away from this delicious dairy product like the plague in order to stay healthy.
Each year, on January 20th, cheese aficionados everywhere celebrate National Cheese Lover’s Day. Since we are team ‘cheese lover’, we’ve tried to figure out whether cheese should be a part of a healthy diet or not. Plus, we’ve added an easy, healthy recipe that requires no cooking.
Great news! Cheese isn’t your healthy diet’s nemesis. Unless you’re allergic to cow’s milk protein or dairy, and have to spend the day locked up in the loo, eating cheese in smaller portions is a tasty way to boost your protein, calcium and vitamin B12 intake.
International culinary expert, Mariko Amekodommo says, “Health-wise, cheese can be divided into: good and bad options. Fresh ones such as—paneer, mozzarella, European-style cottage cheese, feta and ricotta—are higher in protein and easier for the body to digest.” Buffalo, goat or sheep-milk cheese, are lower in lactose and gentler on the body. Cheese is also a fermented food, containing bacteria or yeast, which contribute to healthy microbiomes/probiotics for optimal gut health. NOTE: Is it possible to link the story on probiotics superfoods here???
Adds Amekodommo, “Cheese also happens to be rich in potassium, magnesium and phosphorus, which are essentials for a healthy cardiovascular system. It’s also a source of good fats that can help maintain a healthy weight as it stabilises your metabolism.”
Now, onto the bad stuff. “Stay away from anything that’s processed such as cheese slices/spreads, as they’re filled with additional oils and preservatives,” warns Amekodommo. Certain varieties of the popular cheddar have added colours in order to give them an orange tone, which aren’t good either. Next one is a bummer. “Hard cheeses such as parmesan are also bad for your health due to the high levels of sodium required for the ageing process. Avoid full-cream cheese such as brie that is high in saturated fat and calories without the health benefits,” she adds.
Also, here’s an important update for those tripping on the fat-free cheese craze: They’re absolutely the worst for you. Cheese is made from milk fat; when you take that out of the equation, manufacturers swap in chemicals and preservatives. You’re left with a block of faux cheese that has a plastic flavour and texture that’s not worth the effort or the empty calories! Yikes!
How to have your cheese and eat it too
According to Amekodommo, when cooking with cheese, the deciding factor should be how you intend to use it. She explains, “If you’re making a salad, go for a fresh cheese such as feta. If you are using cheese as a meat replacement in a stir fry or gravy, then select a paneer or halloumi, as it will maintain its shape and texture without melting. If melted mouthful of goodness is your goal—choose a mozzarella or white cheddar for omelettes, pizza and sandwiches.”
Like with everything in life, the key to eating cheese and staying guilt-free is a balancing act. If you eat scrambled eggs with low-fat cheddar for breakfast, then skip the cheese during other meals throughout the day. If you’re planning quesadillas or pizza for dinner, skip it during breakfast the next day. You get the drift. Now, go eat some cheese.
Mango Bruschetta Salad
Amekommodo shares one of her favourite quick, healthy cheese recipes that anyone can make: An Italian bruschetta salad. “It only requires a few ingredients, is ready in minutes and great on its own or served with toasted bread. Traditionally, bruschetta is made with tomatoes, but I love to experiment with whatever fruit is in season such as mangoes, strawberries and figs,” she says.
1 cup mangoes, chopped
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar or lime juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs such as basil, mint or coriander
Salt and pepper (to taste)
Mix all ingredients together. On a plate, add 1 ball of fresh mozzarella. Spoon the bruschetta mixture around, and serve.
[Image Credit: Freepik]