Many dieters fear cheese due to its high fat content, but numerous studies have now challenged that myth. Fat not only enhances the taste of foods, it also helps the body absorb vitamins and minerals (particularly from vegetables in salads). It increases satiety for longer, thus curbing the amount of calories consumed overall. Fat, such as omega-3 and cholesterol, is also crucial in the regulatory functions of the body. Cheese and diary are also a great source of protein, vitamin D, calcium and other nutrients. When it comes to shedding the pounds, a 12-week study at Curtin University in Australia suggested that five servings of low-fat dairy products are more beneficial to dieting than just three servings. With all these benefits, cheese can be great for boosting weight loss efforts. However, with so many varieties, flavors and textures out there, one should be smart about which to buy.
Many dietitians agree that it is best to avoid highly processed cheeses, as those could be made with potentially dangerous additives or preservatives. Low-fat and skim varieties are the best. Aside from the necessary fat they also provides a lot of protein. Most contain about 6-7 grams of this crucial nutrient in every ounce. Traditional cheddar, mozzarella, Swiss, gouda and brie all fall into this category. Many also have low or skim versions available.
Low-moisture and aged cheeses are an even better pick, providing more protein and stronger flavors. Parmesan, for example, contains a whopping 10 grams of protein per ounce, almost 20 percent of the daily requirement for most adults, according to CDC. Furthermore, aged and hard cheeses tend to have a far stronger flavor, meaning smaller amounts can be used to enhance the dish. Parmesan, asiago, aged cheddar or romano fall into this category.
Imagination is the only limit in cooking up interesting dishes with cheese. Aside from sandwiches and crackers, crumbly feta or shredded asiago provides a filling replacement for high-fat dressings in most salads. A whole brie can be briefly heated in the oven, turning it into a gooey dip perfect for crunchy vegetables or whole grain breads and snacks. Soft cheeses can also be a good counterpart to fruit. The combination of creamy and sweet is not only tasty but full of vitamins and essential nutrients. Lastly, melting aged cheddar or part-skim mozzarella with low-fat milk and herbs is a much healthier option than most highly processed Alfredo sauces on the store shelves.
Many of the benefits of cheese for boosting weight loss efforts also apply to other dairy products. Skim milk has been a staple of the American diet for centuries. Yogurt, as well, is a good addition to any meal thanks to its live cultures aiding in digestion. Greek yogurt, in particular, is renowned for its high protein value. It makes a great substitute for creamy salad dressings or half-and-half in many dishes. Lastly,1 percent cottage cheese contains 10 grams of fat and whopping 14 grams of protein in a 4-ounce serving. While the texture may take some getting used to, it goes great both sweet (mixed with fruit and honey) and savory (mixed with cubed tomatoes, onions and cucumbers). The sweet variety makes a particularly good topping for pancakes or crepes.
A word of caution, however. Just because a healthier cheese is used does not mean one should skimp on the quality of other ingredients. For a simple sandwich it is best to use whole grain bread, vegetables and low-sodium ham or meat. Pasta, as well, is better in the whole grain variety, providing more vitamins and fiber than its regular white counterpart. For cottage cheese or yogurt pairings it is best to go for plain and add fruit or honey later. The flavored equivalents often contain huge amounts of sugar or questionable zero-calorie sweeteners and do not always use real fruit. It is important not to offset the benefits of healthy dairy with unhealthy pairings.
Cheese is not only a tasty addition to most dishes and a good source of protein (particularly for vegetarians), it is helpful for boosting weight loss efforts by providing fulfilling nutrients that keep the stomach fuller for longer. When in the store it is best to look for low-fat, skim and low-moisture varieties of mozzarella, Swiss or Gouda. Hard and aged cheeses, such as parmesan or asiago, are usually even better, containing more protein and stronger flavors. When these grow tiresome, however, it is also a good option to mix things up a little with plain low-fat cottage cheeses and Greek yogurts. These can be combined with fruits, honey or vegetables at home for an even more wholesome and tasty snack.
By Jakub Kasztalski