Posts Filed Under The ‘Nutrition’ Category

Thursday, November 7th, 2013

The Mediterranean Sun

photo 1 e1383866904359 The Mediterranean Sun

Just got my cholesterol levels checked. HDL 106, LDL 51. Great genes, certainly, yet all the cheese I am consuming does not appear to be hurting. The Mediterranean diet that I prefer may help: more fresh fruits and vegetables, fish and olive oil, cheese (definitely) and less red meat. We often hear about that Mediterranean diet but somehow cheese is not usually mentioned as one of its parts.

Cheese most certainly is a part of that “diet.” The highest per capita cheese consumption occurs all around the Mediterranean and on many islands within. We tend to try to bring it down to one or two things, like fish and red wine, and the same holds true with explanations why certain nutrients, like vitamin C, accomplish their stated claims. Most nutritionists recognize that many players are involved in the success of the Med diet.

The 2013 Epcot Food and Wine Festival ends this weekend and our cheese series closes with a Mediterranean theme, which of course means there will be some goat and sheep milk cheeses, as well as one cow cheese, all of them from within and around that wonderful sea.

Just wanted to make sure we got a full complement of those delicious nutrients.

A part of what makes that “diet” succeed is the pace at which one enjoys the foods and wines. The pace in central Florida is a bit slower than the one here in New York, though not as slow as the Mediterranean. This weekend is not going to be that slow however. The Epcot festival’s Saturday morning cheese and wine tasting will be sandwiched between a pairing session Friday night at Orlando’s La Femme de Fromage and an early afternoon Flying Fish Café luncheon, complete with its own cheese course.

This time of year the Mediterranean sounds wonderful – the thoughts of warmer, sunnier climes replete with Mediterranean cheeses and wines. So if you’re not headed that way, or to central Florida either, we have a couple of classes planned for you: Italian Cheese and Wine this Saturday, and French Cheese and Wine on Sunday, the 17th. Both classes will be held at Alison Eighteen, 3:00-5:00.

- Max McCalman

Friday, November 1st, 2013

Calcium Discussions

800px Coulommiers lait cru e1383328676847 Calcium Discussions

It should be no surprise that the National Dairy Council would tout the calcium contents and other benefits in dairy. At the same time we might expect the council would be very selective about which sources it references: the randomized clinical trials, the observational studies, the animal and in vitro studies, the research reviews, and the studies of children and adolescents. Yet it is clear that the studies cited come from a diverse mix of credible researchers, and with no conflicts of interest in sight. It is gratifying to read through the works that the council has summarized.

We would expect that an entity such as WebMD would have no vested interest in recommending dairy so reading through some of their reports might make for a little less pleasurable read. Yet in a summary of various studies on calcium intake and body fat the evidence suggests a strong inverse correlation, i.e. the high-calcium diet can reduce body fat.

According to Michael Zemel, PhD, Director of the Nutrition Institute, studies have shown that the more calcium there is in a fat cell, the more fat it will burn. In their research various trials were conducted, some with calcium supplements and others with dairy. According to Dr. Zemel, “The magnitude of the findings was shocking.” Body fat storage was markedly reduced by all high-calcium diets…however calcium from dairy products produced the best results.

My favorite line from the WebMD article was this one: Too many dieters tend to immediately jettison dairy foods from their diet, because they’re just sure they’re going to make them fat. In fact, they’re shooting themselves in the foot, because they subject themselves to more empty-calorie sources.

This goes to the point: cheese is a “near-complete” food.

One of least favorite lines immediately follows: They would be better off if they would substitute high-fat dairy products with low-fat fairy.

This is a point with which I disagree, even without my own PhD to back me up.

Later in the same article, Pamela Meyers, PhD, a clinical nutritionist and assistant professor at Kennesaw State University states: “Also, there are people who are lactose intolerant who can’t consume dairy products. That’s why we need to look at other food sources…using calcium supplements, it’s important to choose those with added vitamin D, zinc, and magnesium, which help the body to better absorb calcium…”

A couple points here: Dr. Meyers, like so many other health professionals, seems not to know that cheese is lactose-reduced; up to 90% of lactose is eliminated in cheese making, and in most aged cheeses that reduction is even greater. One reason why the dairy products were more effective than supplements in reducing body fat storage is because dairy already contains the vitamin D, zinc, magnesium, as well as many other components which work synergistically to enhance the calcium absorption and overall well-being.

You may be familiar with the little graph in DK Publishing’s French Cheese that compares some of the nutritive values in an egg with those in different types of cheeses. The most dramatic difference in relative values is the calcium amounts. Nearly twenty times the calcium is offered in a cooked pressed cow milk cheese than is offered in an egg of equivalent weight.

The best source of bio-available calcium is cheese, especially those that are crafted from uncompromised milk (not pasteurized) for they have their full complement of vitamin D, zinc, and other nutrients.

- Max McCalman

Tuesday, October 29th, 2013

Ewe’s Milk Cheeses: Why We Love Them

sheep Ewe’s Milk Cheeses:  Why We Love Them

We do not usually call them “ewe’s milk cheeses” because of the way that sounds. “You’s” is heard around these parts a little too often. Calling them “ewe milk cheeses” does not sound much better. Calling them “sheep milk cheeses” is commonly accepted, as is “goat milk cheeses.” Neither the sheep nor the goat (the guys) produce the milk but the female names, ewes and does, are both problematic. Think of “does milk cheeses.”

How would you read that?

So much for “you’s milk cheese.”

I have seen many people completely enthralled by sheep milk cheeses. People seem to love them, or most do. There are only a handful of people who cannot tolerate sheep cheeses, including, surprisingly, a judge in a recent national cheese competition. For her it had to be cow and cow only.

Cheese suffers in so many ways.

The different species’ milks are a little less distinctive. Yet when you convert those milks into cheese, their different aromas, flavors and textures begin to diverge.

If there were only one adjective that defines goat cheeses from sheep or cow it would be “chalky.” If there were only one for cow cheeses it would be “buttery.” For sheep cheeses I would say “olive.” Maybe not an adjective but it conveys a distinction. Not that each of those milks does not at times have the other qualities – these are only the main descriptors.

Everything may be better with a little butter on it, but chalk? This could be one of the challenges goat cheese face with some people. Chalk is not so easy to swallow. Olive oil may be the easiest to appreciate. That olive oil note comes partly from the higher butterfats in sheep milk. The butterfat contents can be nearly twice as high as those in goat or cow. Some Spanish sheep milk cheese labels promote the cheeses underneath as “Extra Graso,” as in “extra greasy.” Yum!

No wonder we love them.

Sheep milk also contains more protein, another source of some of the wonderful aromas (wonderful for most of us) that sheep milk cheeses can offer.

When the milk is converted into cheeses and the cheeses are allowed to age, the relative protein and fat contents can be more closely lined up. The water content in cow milk averages about 87% of total weight, similar in goat, while sheep milk typically averages around 80%. Simply stated, sheep milk has more solids.

While this does not fully explain why we love sheep milk cheeses, all those butterfats and proteins do play a big role in the way sheep milk cheeses taste and smell, as well as in how they feel. During the fermentation processes of cheese making the proteins and fats break down into distinct flavors and more volatile aromatics. The lively aromas that arise from sheep milk cheeses are appealing to most people. The extra fat is appealing, though many people consider this to be an indulgence.

I would argue that this extra fat is not at all an indulgence but a wholesome attribute.

The fat works well with many wines too. I have found fewer wine “challengers” from among different sheep milk cheeses than I have for goat or cow. This is a broad generalization but considering how the acids in wines, beers or hard ciders work with fats, it should be little surprise that sheep milk cheeses enjoy so many tremendous synergies with those fermented beverages. Looking at three recent cheese and wine score sheets, the sheep milk cheeses all paired well with each of the wines. This is not to say that there can’t be outstanding matches with cow or goat, or with water buffalo cheeses.

Plus, those extra solids in sheep milk indicate higher overall nutritive values, including those derived from those wholesome butterfats. I firmly believe that our bodies know a good food when we eat it, which is one reason why we keep going back for more cheese, and why sheep cheeses in particular are often chosen to be favorites from within a mix.

Some cheese experts insist on calling them “ewe’s milk cheeses” but wouldn’t this have read a little silly if “ewe” was substituted for “sheep” all the way through?

If you was…?

- Max McCalman

Monday, October 7th, 2013

Goat Times

california goats e1381176828968 Goat Times

Last night a journalist asked me about the relative digestibility of goat milk cheese: was it true that goat milk cheeses are easier to digest, and if so was it because they contain less lactose?

Love those questions…

Yes and no. Goat milk cheeses may be a little easier to digest but not because they contain less lactose. All the many comparisons among the three major dairy animals’ milks average out to the conclusion that goat milk has just a little less lactose than cow or sheep. The averages I see for cow and sheep milks are around 4.8% of total weight, with goat milks averaging about 4.5%. However this is the milk, and not the cheese. The lactose is what ferments in the production of cheese. The cultures added at the beginning of cheesemaking is what starts the fermentation process, the digestion of the lactose by lactic acid bacteria, so named because of the by-product of the fermentation, lactic acid. In this first step of cheesemaking (which in many ways overlaps with other steps of the process) much of the lactose is lost. When the whey is drained off, most of the remaining lactose goes with it. This leaves a lactose-reduced curd from which most all cheeses are made. This fermentation process continues at a slow pace until the cheese, no matter the species, becomes virtually lactose-free. As for the relative digestibility of goat milk, we cannot credit the lactose factor. A goat milk cheese could actually have more lactose than a cheese made from the milk of cow or sheep.

If it is not the lactose, what is it that might make goat milk cheeses easier on the tummy than the others?

The strongest case for goat milk cheese digestibility is the relative size of the fat globules. Fat globules in goat milk are smaller than cow, about the same size as sheep. A smaller fat globule will cross the stomach lining more easily than a larger one. The stomach has to work a little harder to break down a bigger globule. Yet this is also relative and dependent upon other factors. As fats metabolize the size of the globule is less important. The metabolism of fats starts at the beginning of the cheesemaking process, making them easier to digest – one reason why an aged cheese may be easier on the tummy than a younger one. Different breeds of goat will have different sized globules too. This does not mean that goat milk cheeses are necessarily less fattening. The fat globules in goat milk may be smaller than cow milk but there are more of them.

Another point of digestibility is something that may be quite different from what occurs in the stomach but after the milk is broken down and absorbed into the blood stream, or in some cases, even before the milk makes it way into the stomach. This would be an issue of tolerance, not lactose intolerance, but tolerance of certain caseins – the proteins found in dairy animals’ milk. This intolerance of certain proteins (found mostly in new cow breeds) is sometimes called cow milk allergy, or CMA.

Goat milk cheeses have a lot going for them anyway, regardless of the relative ease of digestion and tolerance. Goat milk cheeses have many fans. As a group they are similar to sheep in some ways but quite different in others. The milks of both of these small ruminants have relatively higher amounts of short chain fatty acids, beneficial in some ways but their “animal” aromatics problematic for some people. One consideration on behalf of goat milk, as well as sheep, as well as another species’ milk, is the relative amounts of nutrients in the different milks. For example, a sheep milk cheese may have a little more vitamin B2, while a similarly made cow milk cheese may have more folic acid – a good argument for including a variety of cheese types in your week.

There are many styles of goat milk cheeses available today; it’s not just fresh chèvre in a plastic wrap. If this is the only goat milk cheese a goat-cheese abhorrer has ever experienced, then it is understandable that they may avoid them.

I will be a judge at the American Dairy Goat Association competition October 15th & 16th, this year in North Carolina. Last time I helped in the ADGA judging I got to sample over 200 goat cheeses in two days! Yum!

You might say: I’ll get my goat.

- Max McCalman

Friday, September 27th, 2013

How’s the Commute?

R68A G Train e1380304297803 How’s the Commute?

Outside our windows I can usually see cars backed up for miles, or at least as far as the eye can see. The same crowded scene prevails every weekday morning. One of my colleagues is even suffering from extra commuting delays due to a power outage on his train line. Around these parts I would estimate that the average commute is well over an hour. Mine is. This means that one has to get up earlier to make it to work on time; no problem there if you don’t mind getting to bed a little earlier as well.

If there is one thing that can lessen the stress of your commute, it is cheese. Consider getting to bed a little earlier: cheese contains tryptophan, as well as opioid peptides, both of which can help you relax. That’s great for the end of the day. But what about those groggy mornings preceding the rush to work? If like me you require a little caffeine jump-start each morning, leaping right out of bed and onto the subway platform is not an option. I cannot say that it is a particularly leisurely start of the day but I do enjoy savoring my coffee at the breakfast table.

As I often recommend, a little cheese at the start of the day can sustain you for many hours. Yet we have this empty feeling (especially Americans) if we do not fill up every few hours, regardless of all the great sustenance the cheese may have delivered hours earlier. These hungry moments often emerge during the hustle and bustle of that overlong commute; this is precisely when a slight nibble of cheese can help you soldier on.

And as for road-rage (in case your commute involves driving), cheese’s stress-reducing potential will ensure a much calmer drive.

As always, slip a little cheese in the pocket and it will be okay.

- Max McCalman

Wednesday, September 18th, 2013

What About the Underweight People?

8 e1379522265765 What About the Underweight People?

It seems that most of the spam I receive is intended for the overweight. In case you have never seen me in person, being overweight is not one of my concerns. Obesity is a national problem and it does merit attention but all the claims you find on how to lose weight are, in my estimation, flawed. There are many ways one can shed a pound or two, and including cheese on a regular basis can help make that happen. If you have a hard time believing that one, I have some lovely real estate in Florida. No, seriously, cheese can be part of a wholesome and weight reducing diet plan.

That is not my topic here. Instead, for many of us, including yours truly – the cheese-devouring Maître Fromager, trying to keep weight on is a bit of a problem. I understand that it may be better to be underweight than over, but I would prefer not to have to shop in the boys’ departments when I shop for clothes. Genetics plays its role. As my doctor insists, some people will gain a pound just by looking at a piece of cheese. Yet as much cheese as I eat, it is simply not adding on the poundage. At times I think I ought to cut back on cheese so that I can get my weight up a bit, perhaps make up the difference with some other foods.

Naw. Ain’t gonna happen.

Cheese does have some qualities that can help you put on weight, I am told. Hint: it is not the fat. Fat does provide calories, as does the protein in cheese, yet the fat yields a feeling of satiety, thus reducing the desire to overeat. More on that later.

The weight one may put on by consuming extra cheese is lean body mass. No one I know has a problem with lean body mass, at least up to a point. So where might we pick up some of the rounding pounds?

You might include a glass of wine or a beer with your cheese. That may help. Or if you do not drink alcohol you can pick up those extra calories with juices, or a little extra whole grain bread.

Bottom line: if you are trying to add weight, cheese may not be the way to go, unless you are willing to pick up extra carbohydrates from other foods and beverages.

- Max McCalman

Wednesday, August 28th, 2013

Burning Fat

Emmentaler e1377722980399 Burning Fat

I am always on the lookout for articles making claims of benefits for foods. Just as interesting are the articles on the negatives in foods.

Will cheese appear on either of these lists: the good or the bad?

Yesterday morning’s Newsmax article started off: “When it comes to weight loss, the hard truth is that there are no miracles: If you eat fewer calories than you burn, you will lose weight…But nutritional experts know that all calories are not created equal.”

Fair enough. I agree with this part.

The article goes on to state that the fat-burning foods are those that require more energy to digest, such as lean meat, foods that are high in fiber, and those containing “good” fats. Knowing that cheese has two of those three components: the protein found in lean meat and the “good” fats gave me hope that I would find cheese among their list of these fat-burning foods.

Along with the fat-burning potential of lean meat the writer brings up the satiety angle: the satiety levels are increased. This satiety happens with cheese for similar reasons. The protein-rich foods such as cheese and lean meat make you feel full longer so you snack less.

“Protein-rich meat requires a lot of energy to digest…”

The cheese may not require as much energy to digest as the lean meat does but are we really looking for foods that require extra energy to digest? Seems wasteful. Cheese requires less energy to digest because it is already pre-digested. Cheese is a fermented food that has undergone some metabolism. This metabolism continues after the cheese crosses our lips. As for the satiety angle: cheese has those proteins (a full complement of the proteins’ building blocks, the amino acids) along with the “good” fats (some of us would say that the fats found in cheese are at least as good as those found in meat) as well as vitamins and minerals. All these nutrients, including the “good” fats provide that feeling of satiety. Which makes me ask: Why lean meat?

Avocados are mentioned in the article for their monounsaturated fats and fiber. I love avocados and I am pleased to hear that they are a source of fiber, but the monounsaturated fats? They’re nice too. It is the fiber that requires a little extra energy to digest. Since cheese has no fiber I am happy to make room in my shopping cart for an avocado.

Raw almonds? Why not? Not only almonds; different nuts have different nutritive values. They all contain some proteins, fats and fiber. It is the relative amounts of those nutrients that differ: for example, some may have a little more selenium than others. I will include almonds on my shopping list, as well as other tree nuts.

Hot peppers? Sure, but in moderation. The article claims that the capsaicin in peppers boosts metabolism. The peppers also contain some vitamin C, which cheese lacks.

Then another favorite food is listed: coffee. The writer says that one or two cups of coffee will jump-start lipolysis, the breakdown of fats. Green tea is recommended in the article for its fat-burning potential. I have a cup of it every once in awhile but I already enjoy four of the other foods much more: coffee, almonds, avocados, and peppers. I may have meat occasionally – but lean?

So where was the cheese in this article? I suppose we might say that it does not require the extra energy to digest, and that it does not trigger lipolysis dramatically. Yet it does enhance metabolism of the foods we may have eaten, the cheese itself included.

I want to see cheese celebrated for its powerful nutritional benefits including its weight-reducing potential, not only for the gustatory pleasures it offers.

- Max McCalman

Wednesday, June 19th, 2013

Stick to the Cheese

np5002 1 Stick to the Cheese

It is heartening to read the results on food safety as it relates to cheese. As I often say: If you are unsure about the other foods available, go for the cheese.

We often promote the marvelous nutritive values of cheese but it is also nice to know how safe a food it is. Of the food-borne illness outbreaks reported to the FDA, the CDC, and the USDA, between 2001 and 2010, cheese ranks safer than fruits and vegetables, far safer. Adjusted for consumption, vegetables are responsible for more than twice as many food-borne illnesses as cheese is. The incredible edible egg can be blamed for more than six times the number of illnesses. Seafood is responsible for nearly twenty times as many illnesses, again, adjusted for consumption.

Since 2010 there has been only one food-borne illness outbreak attributed to dairy in the U.S. – milk from a dairy in Pennsylvania in 2012. Cheese is even safer than milk! As of this writing there have been no reports of food-borne illnesses attributed to any U.S. dairy product this year.

No other food group comes close to the stellar track record that cheese enjoys, except for beverages. Even beverages are not without blame. But when you consider the nutritive values of beverages, cheese is incomparable.

- Max McCalman