Wednesday, November 19, 2014

A Recipe for Health - Who’s the big cheese?

Ever entered a cheese store and been bowled over by the scent of aromatic cheeses? Why is it that the foulest smelling are usually the most expensive and the best tasting? Is cheese really good for our health? Well it is a good source of calcium, protein and other essential vitamins and minerals. But what about all the fat in cheese?

History tells us that Arab nomads were probably the first to make cheese. Carrying milk in animal skins in the hot dessert the milk curdled and turned into primitive cheese. The earliest account of cheeses dates back to the Sumerians around 3500 B.C. As time progressed the Romans were attributed with the art of perfecting cheese. From there it spread throughout the world, with Italy becoming the Mecca of cheese making. The rest is a long history of cheese being a staple in the diet of most all cultures.

 In Italy Gorgonzola is first mentioned in 879 C.E. A cheese called La Luna, possibly the precursor of today’s Parmigiano-Romano, first appeared in 1579. Mozzarella and Parmigiana are probably the most widely used cheeses.

About one-third all the milk produced in the US today is used to produce cheese. The International Dairy Association estimates that there are more than 300 varieties of cheese sold in the U.S. The average American consumes more than 33 pounds of cheese per year. But is cheese good for you?
The health benefits are many. Calcium for dental health and bone strength and cheese is rich in vitamin B. The B vitamins are utilized as coenzymes in almost all parts of the body. They are essential for maintaining healthy nerves, skin, hair, eyes, liver and they are good muscle tone in the gastrointestinal tract. But what about all the fat in cheese?

Well full fat cheese is very high in saturate fat and high in calories. This is most of your rich creamy cheeses. However, that doesn’t mean you need to stop eating it and receiving the good benefits. Just change your relationship with cheese so that it becomes an accent to food and not the main ingredient. Limit yourself to a couple of serving of high fat rich cheese every week. Eat more hard cheeses like parmigiana also known as parmesan in the US.

The proponents of parmigiana cheese applaud its many health benefits dubbing it a “super food”. As well as, being high in calcium and the B vitamins parmigiana is a supper food because the human digestive system can easily assimilate all its goodness. Due to its long aging, much of the protein in Parmesan has been broken down into peptones, peptides and free amino acids. This means that the protein has been 'pre-digested'. The protein is readily available and as such it is easily metabolized.
Parmesan contains 33% protein compared to 20% in lean beef and the cheese protein takes only 45 minutes to digest while the protein in animal products take about 4 hours. Other benefits for the digestive system include Parmesan's ability to promote the development of Bacillus Bifidus, which is useful for the maintenance of a healthy gut. Parmigiana is also lactose free making it a good choice for the lactose intolerant or those with gastro-intestinal inflammation.

The combination of health benefits and ease of digestion is why doctors in Italy suggest parmagiana cheese for infants, the elderly and athletes. Health wise, well, it appears the Italians are the big cheese!

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