The sneaky ingredient that’s hiding in your shredded cheese

If your fridge is anything like mine, pre-shredded cheese is a staple. Yes, I know block is better. But when the day runs long and I’m staring at a block of cheddar or a bag of the shredded kind, the bag always wins.

I never thought much about this—it’s cheese either way—until I sat down to dinner with my parents. I was looking for mozzarella to sprinkle over my family’s famous shrimp marinara recipe and my parents only had blocks of cheese. Not a pre-shredded tub in sight! I wanted to know why, so I did some research.

What is cellulose?

When you look at the ingredient list on the back of a bag of shredded cheddar, you’ll almost always find cellulose. It’s a common ingredient in pre-shredded cheese, valued for its anti-caking and moisture-absorbing properties. It’s not that cellulose itself is bad, despite the false rumors from February 2016 claiming that the cellulose in cheese was actually wood pulp. In its natural state, the substance is a dietary fiber found in plant cell walls, and we consume abundant amounts of it anytime we eat whole fruits and vegetables like apples, strawberries, green beans, and tomatoes. An insoluble complex carb, cellulose also helps us digest food.

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When eaten in moderation, cheese can be a part of a healthy diet. Many brands are rolling out low-fat and low-sodium versions, but are these alternatives better than the originals? Read on to discover the best and worst types of cheeses for your health.

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Low-fat cheese

Cheese is a major source of saturated fat, but some types of cheese are naturally low in fat like Parmesan, grated Romano and part-skim mozzarella. Consumers can also buy low-fat or fat-free varieties of cheese made from reduced-fat or skim milk. Low-fat options of cottage, ricotta, Cheddar, Swiss, Parmesan, Colby, Meunster, provolone, Mexican blend or American exist on the market.

How do the experts weigh in on these low-fat alternatives?

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Fat equals flavor

Lower fat versions have a reputation for tasting milder, feeling rubbery in texture and cooking differently than their full-fat counterparts, and one cheese expert has likened the taste of low-fat cheese to that of “an eraser”. In addition, many brands replace fat with fillers to restore cheese’s creamy texture.

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Should I buy Full-fat or Low-fat?

You may need to shop around and experiment to find a great tasting, low-fat cheese that fits your needs. Otherwise, stick to your full-fat favorites, but consume them in moderation or use them to accent dishes.

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Avoid High-Fat Cheese

Try to consume high-fat cheese sparingly. Cheeses to watch out for include goat cheese, feta cheese and blue cheese. One ounce of semi-soft goat cheese has 6 grams of saturated fat, which makes up approximately 29% of the daily value.

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Low-Sodium Cheese

Salt helps transform liquid milk into cheese and determines the cheese’s taste, texture, food safety and shelf life. Since it is integral to the cheese-making process, cheese must contain some salt.

When you’re shopping for low-sodium cheese, one helpful tip is to choose softer, less-aged cheese, which tends to have less salt.

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Try These Low-Sodium Cheeses

Varieties like Swiss, Monterey Jack, ricotta, and Port de Salut are naturally low in sodium. There are also lower sodium varieties of Colby-Jack, provolone, Muenster, mozzarella and Cheddar on the market.

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Avoid these High-Sodium Cheeses

In general, processed cheese like American, blue cheese, Roquefort cheese, parmesan cheese, feta cheese and cottage cheese contain high amounts of sodium. One ounce of Roquefort cheese contains about 507 mg of sodium, which is more than one-third of the recommended average daily sodium intake level. One ounce of grated parmesan cheese contains 428 mg of sodium.

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Low-Lactose Cheese

According to the National Dairy Council, natural cheeses like Cheddar, Colby, Monterey Jack, mozzarella and Swiss are great sources of calcium for individuals with lactose intolerance because most of the lactose is removed during the cheese-making process when the curds are separated from the whey.

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Low-Lactose Cheese

In general, more mature, hard cheese has lower lactose content. This is because natural bacteria Lactobacillus turn lactose into easily digestible lactic acid during the aging process.

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Cheese is High in Calcium

While cheese may be high in saturated fat and sodium, it is also an excellent source of essential nutrients like calcium. In fact, cheese is the second highest source of dietary calcium in the American diet.

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High Calcium Cheese

If you’re looking to add more calcium in your diet, the National Dairy Council recommends Swiss, Cheddar, ricotta, mozzarella, Monterey Jack, Gouda, queso blanco, Mexican blend and Colby. Half a cup of part-skim ricotta cheese provides 337 mg of calcium, which is about one-third of the daily-recommended calcium intake for adults ages 19 to 50!

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Is American cheese bad for you?

Many people turn their noses up at American cheese for being "unhealthy" and "not real cheese". American cheese is technically referred to as a "cheese product" because it contains additives like whey, emulsifiers and preservatives. As far as nutrition, one ounce of processed American cheese has 110 calories (80 of them from fat), 6 grams of saturated fat and 180 mg of sodium and provides 30% of the recommended daily amount of calcium and 10% of the recommended daily amount of vitamin A. American cheese may not be the healthiest choice, but, like other cheese, it can be part of a healthy diet when eaten in small quantities.

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Is Cheese Linked to Cancer?

In a new study, scientists from the Kaiser Permanente research center in California looked at questionnaires filled out by women with breast cancer. The questionnaires covered diet and the most commonly consumed dairy products included cheese, ice cream, yogurt, lattes and hot chocolate. According to the Daily Mail, those women who ate even one portion of one of these popular dairy products a day were 50 percent more likely to die from breast cancer within 12 years.

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Do Americans Eat Too Much Cheese?

According to SFGate, the average person in the U.S. eats 30 pounds of cheese each year, three times more than the average person ate 40 years ago. They report, "a variety of health problems are also on the rise, and studies have linked multiple diseases with the consumption of cheese." Heart attacks, caused by the fatty nature of cheese, are one of these frightening health risks.

What Cheese Attracts Mosquitos?

According to the American Mosquito Control Foundation, Limburger cheese has been found to attract mosquitos, so always avoid consuming this cheese before a camp out or hike.

Can Cheese Protect Teeth?

A study in the journal General Dentistry reports that consuming cheese and other dairy products may prevent dental cavities. Eating cheese raised the mouth's pH levels, which lowers the chance of developing cavities. Cheese also sticks to tooth enamel for further protection from acid.

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Why you should shred your own

The trouble is that when it comes to cellulose in pre-packaged items, like cheese, there’s no clear cut way to know how much you’re actually getting. Cheese suppliers could easily substitute some of the cheese you think you’re buying for extra cellulose, and some have been caught doing just that. Castle Cheese president Michelle Myrter was sentenced to three years’ probation and a $5,000 fine for allowing adulterated and misbranded cheese—labeled as 100 percent pure cheese when it actually contained cellulose and other fillers—to hit markets. In light of these scandals, it’s important to know what you’re feeding your family, which is why my parents buy blocks instead of the pre-shredded kind in bags. Here are 14 more ingredients to look out for on nutrition labels.

The price for an eight-ounce bag or five-ounce tub of shredded cheese can be downright expensive, too. You’re better off buying a fresh block or wedge and shredding it yourself. You can shred cheese by hand or with a food processor, and store the shredded cheese in the freezer in heavy-duty plastic bags. (Here are more cheese storage options—all tested by a Taste of Home writer.)

Pro Tip: To shred cheese by hand, put blocks of softer cheese like mozzarella in the freezer for a half hour. It will make things much easier to shred. Your next meal should be pretty Gouda! Next, check out these “healthy” foods that you actually need to avoid.

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So, you think you know all there is to know about cheese? Don't get us wrong, we did too at first, but then we came across these interesting facts and had to share. From one cheese connoisseur to the next, enjoy!

Why Does Swiss Cheese Have Holes?

You mean, they're actually there for a reason? Turns out, they are! The holes are caused by the expansion of gas within the cheese curd during the ripening period. Cheesemakers can actually change the size of the holes by altering the acidity and temperature of the bacteria they use when making the cheese.

How Long Has Cheese Been Around?

It's been said that cheese dates all the way back to the ancient Egyptians, where remains of cheese have been found in tombs over 4,000 years old!

What's the Most Popular Cheese in the World?

If you guessed cheddar, you're right!

Who Eats the Most Cheese in the World?

According to dummies.com, Greece!

Where Did the Expression "Big Cheese" Come From?

It's been said that the expression originally came from those who were wealthy enough to purchase a whole wheel of cheese, hence, they were dubbed, "The Big Cheese."

Where Does Cheese Get Its Flavor?

Cheese gets its flavor from the kind of milk used (goat, sheep, cow), forming methods, type of bacteria and ripening and curing conditions.

Limburger, AKA, Stinky Cheese

Did you know that the Chalet Cheese Co-op in Monroe, Wisconsin, is the only cheese factory in the country that still produces Limburger cheese? Furthermore, did you know that the bacteria brevibacterium linens is the culprit for what makes the cheese smell so funky? This bacteria is also partially responsible for what causes body odor in humans.

Who Are the Top Cheese Producers in the US?

The top cheese producers in the U.S. are Wisconsin (more than 2.4 billion pounds annually), California (2.1 billion pounds), Idaho (770.6 million pounds), New York (666.8 million pounds), and Minnesota (629.3 million pounds). These states account for 72 percent of the country's cheese production!

Can Cheese Promote Sweet Dreams?

Turns out, according to a British study in 2005, cheese affects sleep in a positive way. Cheese contains tryptophan, an amino acid that's been reported to reduce stress and induce sleep. What's more? The specific types of cheese consumed prior to sleep may impact your dreams, making them more vivid and colorful.

Is There Such Thing As Healthy Cheese?

While we'd love to tell you that there is some miraculous, amazing, creamy cheese you can munch on without gaining a single pound, that may be a stretch. However, there are a few cheeses that aren't as prone to stack on the calories and fat. Try ricotta, gouda, feta and sharp cheddar (opposed to mild cheddar).

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The post The Sneaky Ingredient That’s Hiding in Your Shredded Cheese appeared first on Reader's Digest.

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