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Healthy Eating

The Gouda-ness of Cheese

By: Ghessica De Leon article_2

Whether it’s paired with ham, placed on top of a warm and fluffy ensaymada, or once bitten through (wax and all) by an unsuspecting child like yours truly, queso de bola has been a mainstay on many Filipino tables during the Christmas holidays. Tangy, salty, and crumbly, it can be served grated, melted, or on its own. This round yellow wheel of cheesy goodness coated in red paraffin wax (don’t eat this part, seriously) hails from the town of Edam in the Netherlands, which came to the Philippines by way of galleons during the Spanish occupation, as cheese was provided then as part of a seafarer’s ration.

On another side of the Cheese(mas) table sits kesong puti, the Dutch Edam’s Filipino cousin. It is a fresh white cheese that goes well with hot pandesal. While not considered as a holiday staple, kesong puti enjoys star status in the province of Laguna, where an annual Kesong Puti Festival is celebrated during summer. Though it did not originate from the Philippines, cheese shares a rich history with Filipinos through dishes and delicacies made even more sumptuous with its inclusion, such as paella, bibingka, puto, pichi-pichi, and ube halaya.

Where cheese came from is a matter still up for debate. However, the earliest evidence of the existence of cheese goes as far back as pre-recorded history. A study made by Mélanie Salque and her peers in the journal Nature suggests that Northern Europeans from the Neolithic era may have produced cheese due to the discovery of strange clay pots in the area. These pots were dotted with small holes and contained traces of milk residue.

“How is this evidence?” some may ask. In its simplest, cheese is made from fresh milk mixed with a coagulant, like rennet from animal skins or an acid like vinegar. The latter ingredient makes the milk break into a watery substance called whey and solid clumps of curd. The whey is strained away while the curds are cut, pressed, and aged. The strange pots discovered by Salque may have been ancient strainers used to separate the curds from the whey.

No matter its origins, cheese has been long enjoyed throughout the times. The many types of cheese can be differentiated from its milk source (cow, goat, sheep, or even yak) or the process of how it’s made (fresh or aged). Did you know that cheese can be made from non-dairy milk? Those who cannot consume or are averse to dairy products can still eat cheese made from nut milk or other plant-based ingredients.

Snacking on cheese can produce great health benefits, as this milky glob contains high levels of calcium, an integral mineral that keeps bones and teeth healthy. Meeting the body’s calcium requirements prevents osteoporosis and other bone-related ailments. Cheese is also a good source of protein, which is an essential nutrient that helps build tissue and muscle in the body. An article from the Dairy Science & Technology suggests that consuming low-fat dairy products have beneficial effects on mildly hypertensive people due to bioactive peptides, a protein fragment that has a blood pressure-lowering effect. When looking for cheese with low-fat content, try those which are made from goat’s or sheep’s milk.

While we're on the subject of all the goud(a) things you can get from cheese, here's something to rock your brain: there are bad and good kinds of fats. We can classify fats into two major groups: unsaturated and saturated fat. The former is considered more beneficial than the latter as it has a lower risk of increasing cholesterol levels. With that said, cheese contains more saturated than unsaturated fat.

This does not mean though that cheese and cholesterol should be avoided at all costs. Cholesterol is essential in making cell membranes and hormones. A complete lack of cholesterol may result in a hemorrhagic stroke while having too much of it can increase risks of heart disease.

In certain types of cheese, there exists a fatty acid called conjugated linoleic acid (CLA). According to Richard Foster's Cheese: Types, Nutrition, and Consumption, CLA is said to possess anti-cancer, anti-diabetic, and anti-thrombotic properties. This quality is a huge contribution to low-carbohydrate diets, which caters to those with diabetes or similar conditions. Eating meals rich in protein and fat (preferably the "good" one) instead of carbohydrates lowers food consumption due to reduced hunger (leading to weight loss or lower levels of obesity), as evidenced in a study from The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition regarding ketogenic diets.

Despite its health benefits, caution must also be taken when eating cheese. As it is made from milk, it contains lactose, a type of sugar that cannot be digested by those suffering from lactose intolerance. Due to their fat content, like some types of cheeses (such as cheddar and Swiss), moderation must be kept in mind. Better have a game plan ready before you tackle that cheeseboard.

The holiday season is a time to partake in delicious food and snacks like cheese, but should you have limitations, consider looking into more healthy varieties (there are tons!) to fully enjoy its gouda-ness.


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Keywords: fats , diets, lactose, conjugated linoleic acid, hormones, cell membranes, cholesterol, saturated fat, unsaturated fat, blood pressure, bioactive peptides, low-fat dairy, protein, calcium, dairy, whey, curd, coagulant, milk, kesong puti, queso de bola, health benefits, cheese   
  
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