Processed cheese includes spreadable cheese, sliced cheese, string cheese, individually wrapped cheese, and spray cheese. These are just a few of the strange and wonderful ready-made cheese foods that are available today.
A lot of the cheeses in the grocery store have labels that say things like "good source of calcium," "made with real milk," or "kids eat right." You might think that eating cheese products meets all of your health needs because they give you the daily recommended amount of dairy.
But if you dig a little deeper, you might find that processed cheese is just a newly invented, mass-produced food that is easy to digest and not a real food at all. A Swiss engineer from the early 1900s is actually credited with coming up with it.
What is Processed Cheese Made Of?
The first thing that makes you think is when you open the package and see a big list of ingredients. In the past, your ancestors ate fresh farm cheese made from just three or four ingredients. This is not that cheese. This stuff has sugar, food coloring, preservatives, emulsifiers, saturated veggie oils, and dairy by-products in it.
A lot of companies say that their products are made from or with real cheese. This may be true, but the cheese base is changed a lot by the time the product is finished being made. Processing cheese is basically a mass-produced, well-thought-out product that is meant to taste good and do well in the mass food market at a very low cost.
Because some processed cheese is so fake, it can't officially be called "cheese." Instead, it's called "cheese food," "cheese spread," or "cheese product."
So you can get a better idea of what you might be eating, here are some FDA labeling rules:
- Pasteurized process cheese — contains 100% cheese
- Pasteurized process cheese food — contains at least 51% cheese
- Pasteurized process cheese product — contains less than 51% cheese
Don't let anyone fool you into thinking this is the same as real milk. We are talking about all kinds of ingredients made from changed milk, like whey, protein powders, milk fat, and loose dairy powder. This can include milk protein concentrate, which is usually a foreign good that is cheap. Using milk protein extract means that the food has to be labeled as a "product," which means that it can't be called cheese anymore.
These are added to make sure that the processed cheese has the same taste all the way through the product and when it melts. On the other hand, when natural cheese is heated, it likes to separate into chunks of protein and liquid fat. Sodium phosphate, potassium phosphate, tartrate, and citrate are all popular types of emulsifiers.
Starches and gums are also used sometimes to make the appearance better. Processed cheese won't change texture or harden, so it will melt, spread, and stretch evenly. Doesn't this make you think of something? In other words, plastic! It should go without saying that these drugs are very bad for your health.
Many unhealthy oils made in factories, like soy, sunflower, canola, and corn oil, are added to processed cheeses to make them taste and feel better. They also add bulk to the product for a low cost, which means less real cheese is needed.
Sodium and Sugar
There is usually at least twice as much salt in processed cheese as there is in natural cheese. This is because companies that make food have learned which mixtures make our brains and taste buds work best. With the fats from the vegetable oils and the way it feels in your mouth from the emulsifiers, processed cheese is a carefully made product that people love.
In fact, until recently, there wasn't a lot of study on processed cheese because many companies had patents that protected their own products. Since processed cheeses came out in the US after the Second World War, the patents on them have now run out, and we can learn more about these unhealthy but famous foods.
Along with the other carefully thought-out qualities of processed cheese, the color is also "just right" to make people want to buy it. Apocarotenal, yellow dye, and yellow tartrazine are all examples of coloring agents.
One of the best things about prepared cheese for food companies is that it stays fresh for a long time. This is possible because of different additives that keep the product fresh for longer, which means less chance of losing money. Sorbic acid and sodium citrate are two popular preservatives.
Some kinds of processed cheese don't even need to be chilled because they have so many of these added ingredients. Leave a cheese slice covered in plastic on your window sill. That's about it for mold growth. It will turn brown and dry out after a few weeks. That's because germs know that garbage isn't good for them!
When these things are heated with an emulsifier and mixed together, they are put into a mold and left to cool. To keep costs and human input low, this process can be done by a lot of machines.
Health Effects of Processed Cheese Ingredients
Many of the ingredients used in processed cheese come with potential health risks.
Because these oils have been refined and oxidized a lot, they are now harmful and cause inflammation. Any kind of vegetable oil is bad for you, but hydrogenated oils are especially bad. They have a lot of fats that make you fat and clog your vessels.
This ingredient is an emulsifier that is used in many processed cheeses. It is also used in medicines, but there is a warning that it could hurt your kidneys.
This is added to processed cheeses to help them stick together and keep them fresh. It is also used to treat kidney stones and make pee more acidic. It could cause allergic responses.
May cause diarrhea.
Yellow 6 and yellow tartrazine are banned by the European Union because they have been shown to promote tumor growth in animal studies.
The thing that makes sprayable cheese so smooth is this lubricant. Trisodium phosphate is also found in cleaners and spot removers, which is not good news.
Isolated and Artificial Vitamins
You might think it's great that your cheese has been added with different vitamins, but the body can't use these separate types of vitamins properly and they could even be harmful.
Sodium and Sugar
Pure sodium, which is a clean form of salt, is found in processed foods. On the other hand, natural salts have other trace minerals in them that help the body process them better. A lot of sodium by itself can be bad for you. Sugar is a big part of our society, and we should cut back as much as we can. There is no way that sugar can be in real natural cheeses.
In general, processed cheeses are a horrible mix of chemicals and fillers, each one worse than the last. Should you really eat something that needs so many extra things to make it taste good?
What is Real Cheese Made Of?
Real cheese, on the other hand, is easier to make and better for you. Adding natural enzymes and bacterial cultures to warm milk is how real cheese is made. After that, the whey (a protein liquid) is separated from the curds (fatty lumps). The curds are then salted and made into a wheel or block to age.
Most of the time, natural cheese is kept for a long time, from a few days to many years. This makes it more expensive and less handy for people who make and buy food. But buying real cheese helps a farming-based economy that has been around for a long time and is good for the environment.
Natural cheese has a lot of nutrients that the body can easily absorb because it is made with few changes. This is because they are part of the whole food and haven't been taken out and put in. Calcium, phosphorus, zinc, vitamin A, vitamin D, and vitamin K2 are a few of the most important ones. The strains that make cheese may also have a lot of B vitamins in them.
How to Choose the Healthiest Cheese
Find full-fat cheese made from raw milk. More expensive cheese is the best way to get as close as possible to cheese the way it was meant to be. The fats and proteins in real cheese are pure, and they can also contain good probiotic bugs that are good for your gut.
The best kind of cheese is one that was made from the milk of cows that were fed grass. When cows are fed grass, they do better, and their milk has more healthy omega-3 fatty acids. On the other hand, grains make the cows' bodies swell, which makes their milk less good.
Any really good kind is a good choice, like Swiss cheese, Parmesan cheese, Edam, feta, goat's cheese, ricotta, mozzarella, Brie, and so on. A farmer's market or specialty food store near you is a good place to find good cheese. In many big stores, you can find better cheeses in the delicatessen section instead of the main dairy case.
Stop giving yourself and your family processed foods and start eating real, healthy cheese instead. It will be good for your body. Now is the time to start your real food journey with these tasty ideas and motivation.