Low-Fat Cheeses, Tasty and Healthy

Cheese is one of the healthiest foods we can consume, in moderation. A single ounce provides over 200mg of calcium, about 20% of the daily recommended minimum. Natural cheese, which contains casein, can provide the full complement of essential amino acids. But most cheese does, in fact, contain a relatively high percentage of fat - and saturated fat at that.

Saturated fats are contributors to a high level of 'bad' cholesterol and they provide 9 calories per gram. As a result, it's possible to get a lot of calories in a small quantity, and too much of the cholesterol forming compounds at the same time.

Reducing consumption is difficult for some. Cheese is not only a very enticing food, but it's a common ingredient in a wide range of recipes - fondue, Welsh Rarebit, pizza, some soups, as a topping on salads... the list goes on and on.

Vegetarians often find it easy to eliminate a lot of animal-based products from their diets, then find that cheese is everywhere. Going to a restaurant and finding something on the menu becomes a real challenge.

Low-fat cheeses can help solve these dilemmas.

Since cheese is made from milk, it's possible to use different sorts to produce it. Though nature isn't so accommodating as to produce a low-fat milk, we can thank the ingenuity of chemists for finding a safe way to produce them. Though natural milk does vary in fat quantity. Milks that are 2% less in fat percentage are considered low-fat. Skim milk contains 1% or less. This can make cheesemaking more difficult, but the products are still outstanding.

One way to cut down on total fat from cheese is to divide and conquer. Chunks served after the main meal can be made of regular milk cheese, but use low-fat cheese in the main dish itself. One potentially tricky aspect, though, is the different way the two melt.

Most low-fat cheeses don't melt as smoothly as regular cheese. The lack of saturated fat molecules makes the result lumpy or stringy. Increasing the heat or lengthening the melting time often results in burning.

In some cases, there are techniques to overcome this limitation. In casseroles, for example, layering the cheese between the strips of pasta can help. The pasta supports the low-fat cheese, which then doesn't need to melt quite as smoothly. Another tip is useful for those cases where the cheese is added on top. Add the cheese later in the cooking cycle than you otherwise would. It will warm, but not melt entirely.

Alternating use of low-fat with regular cheese in this way can help reduce the total quantity of saturated fat consumed. Depending on your diet, that may be enough. Be prepared to sacrifice a little bit of taste, though. Making a low-fat cheese that tastes as good as the regular sort is still proving a challenge.

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