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Cheese From a Different Mold

THE WASHINGTON POST

Imagine having your cheese and eating it too. That’s now possible, thanks to the proliferation of low-fat and even nonfat cheeses that allow cheese lovers to eat their favorite food while still adhering to a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet.

This may sound like a contradiction in terms. After all, most cheese is roughly 70% fat, much of it saturated--just the ticket for raising blood cholesterol levels and increasing the risk of heart disease.

But new varieties of cheese are cut from a different mold. Instead of containing fattening whole milk, they are made from skim milk, says Bonnie Liebman, director of nutrition programs at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a Washington-based consumer group that has featured some of the low-fat cheeses in recent issues of its newsletter, Nutrition Action.

However, don’t expect the rich, creamy flavor of a well-ripened Brie. These new cheeses replace some of the fat with gum, and Liebman notes that the taste can vary widely. Most are processed or pasteurized, and many resemble American-style cheese rather than a rich, aged Cheddar.

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But the new low-fat and nonfat cheeses also go far beyond the bland sapsago and hoop cheeses that were the only very-low-fat varieties available just a few years ago.

Today, nearly 50 types of low-fat and nonfat cheeses are listed by the Dairy Council of Wisconsin. These contain three grams of fat or less per one-ounce serving. That works out to just 27 calories of fat or less. Compare that to the estimated nine grams of fat--some 91 calories--found in each ounce of such popular cheeses as Cheddar, Colby, Edam and Gouda.

Some new cheeses contain no fat at all. These range from a processed Cheddar with just 35 calories per ounce to nonfat ricotta cheese at 25 calories per ounce.

Other options are “lite” cheeses, which haven’t reduced fat as low as three grams per ounce--they may contain four to six grams, about 1/2 to 1/3 less than regular cheese. Read the label carefully, however. Don’t assume because a cheese label states that it is “low-cholesterol” that it also meets the criterion for low-fat.

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Some replace the highly saturated butterfat with unsaturated oils. “Saturated fat is the most important fat to avoid to reduce your risk of heart disease,” Liebman says, “but unsaturated fats aren’t great for you either.” They help increase calories, which adds to body weight.


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