Dear Eating Right: I am a cheese lover who needs to watch my fat intake. What can you tell me about "light" cheeses?
--MARY HELEN LOOMIS, Los Angeles.
Dear Mary Helen: First, don't always assume that "light" cheese is lower in fat.
The assortment of alternative cheese options includes, among others, "low-fat," "cholesterol-free," "very low-cholesterol" and "reduced sodium." But since the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has no legal definition of "light" or "low fat," it is very important to read the label. A light cheese, for example, may indeed have fewer calories or less cholesterol than regular cheese. At the same time, however, it may contain the same amount of fat. In other cases, "light" may refer to sodium content.
Making low fat and low sodium cheeses is not easy, since fat and sodium are both important components of cheese. Sodium determines flavor and stability. Fat is responsible for both the smoothness of texture and the richness of flavor. Dairymen are able to reduce the fat content (and simultaneously cut the calories) of cheese--though the process can drastically change its taste, texture, nutritional value and cooking characteristics.
The fat content of cheese is determined by the amount of cream in the milk used to make it. To make standard cheese lower in fat, some of the milk fat is replaced with nonfat milk solids and additional moisture, according to the United Dairy Industry Assn. "Light" cheese often is produced from nonfat instead of whole milk. Or, some of the fat is separated mechanically from the milk before cheese production begins. In cholesterol-free cheeses, vegetable oil replaces the butterfat. But the lower butterfat content often makes these cheeses rubbery, drier or firmer than higher-fat varieties.
A better alternative is to use regular fat cheese sparingly. Cheese, which is high in protein and supplies a good amount of calcium and riboflavin, has a place in the diet. Following the health recommendation that no more than 30% of your daily calories come from fat is a simple way to fit cheese into a diet of moderation. Try alternating between low-fat cheese varieties such as mozzarella and cottage and the higher-fat ones--especially Cheddar and Provolone. You also can experiment with recipes: Combine a lower-fat cheese with a higher-fat one in dishes. And, use potent cheeses such as Asiago, Parmesan or Romano, whose strong flavors come through in small quantities. Avoid vegetables frozen in or prepared with creamy cheese sauces.
Using the 30% fat allotment, if you currently consume 2,000 calories per day you can have about 67 grams of fat daily. That means you can eat 600 fat calories (1 gram of fat has 9 calories, 67 grams times 9 calories equals about 600 calories). Eat a 1-ounce serving of part-skim mozzarella cheese--which contains about 4.5 grams of fat and you've only consumed 7% of your total daily fat allotment of 67 grams, or 41 of the 600 total fat grams allowed each day.
Low-fat milk, potatoes and Parmesan cheese give Asparagus Cream Soup its smooth texture and good taste.
ASPARAGUS CREAM SOUP
2 tablespoons butter
1 medium onion, chopped
3 potatoes, peeled and sliced 1/2-inch thick
1 pound asparagus (chopped)
1 quart low-fat milk
1 quart chicken stock
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Chopped dill weed
Melt butter in heavy 4-quart pot. Saute onion until tender. Add potatoes, asparagus, milk and stock. Bring to boil, then reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes, or until vegetables are tender. Puree in several batches in blender and return to pot to reheat. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with cheese and dill before serving. Makes 2 quarts.
NUTRIENT ANALYSIS FOR ONE OUNCE CHEESE
Type/Brand of Cheese Fat (grams) Calories Sodium Cholesterol (milligrams) (milligrams) American Weight Watchers 2 50 400 5 American Flavor Kraft Light n' Lively American Flavored 4 70 410 15 Pasteurized Process Cheese Product Borden Light 7 93 467 20 American Flavor Generic/Domestic 9 106 406 27 Cheddar Kraft Light Naturals 5 80 210 20 Mild Reduced Fat Cheddar Formagg Cheddar- 5 70 140 0 Flavored Cheese Substitute Alpine Lace Cheddar 8 97 95 25 Flavored Part-Skim, Semi-Soft Domestic Type 9 114 176 30 Mozzarella Dorman's Lo-Chol 6 90 140 1 Shredded Mozzarella Cheese Alternative Formagg Mozzarella 5 70 140 0 Flavored Cheese Substitute Whole Milk, 6 80 106 22 Domestic Part-Skim, Low- 5 80 150 15 moisture, Domestic Swiss Weight Watchers 2 50 370 5 Swiss Flavor Kraft Light Naturals 5 90 45 20 Reduced Fat Swiss Borden Lite-Line 3 53 390 15 Swiss Flavor Pas- teurized Process Cheese Product Domestic 8 107 74 26
Source: USDA Handbook No. 8 and Environmental Nutrition Newsletter