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Cheese is definitely a staple of the American diet. In fact, on average Americans consume over 40 pounds of cheese per year! While this dairy product hasn’t always had the best reputation as far as healthy foods go, this is in large part based on how it is consumed. Americans put cheese on everything, but it is synonymous with cheese burgers, grilled cheese sandwiches, macaroni and cheese, nachos and above all – pizza. While these may not be the most healthful combinations, independently cheese can provide a lot of “grate” nutrition!
Cheese is a dairy product typically produced from the milk of cows, goats, or sheep, but can be made from the milk of other mammals including buffalo, camel, llama, reindeer, and yak! It has been a part of the human diet since before recorded history (potentially as early as 8000 BCE), with some of the world’s oldest preserved cheeses discovered in Egypt and China from 3200-3600 years ago – talk about well-aged! Although it isn’t known exactly when or where this food originated, it is assumed that cheese was an accidental discovery resulting from storing milk in a container made from an animal stomach, causing it to turn into curds and whey. A fitting hypothesis given how cheese is produced.
Essentially cheese forms from curdling of the milk protein casein. Cheese production begins with the separation of milk into solids (curds) and liquids (whey), which occurs through the acidification of milk via the addition of an acid such as vinegar or more commonly with the introduction of a starter bacteria, which converts the sugar in milk (lactose) into lactic acid. Traditionally this step is followed by the addition of rennet, which is a group of enzymes (primarily chymosin) found in the stomachs of ruminant mammals such as cattle, sheep, and goats (thus explaining the accidental discovery of this ancient food!). Today, however, most cheese is made with chymosin prepared from bacteria – its function being to curdle the casein in milk. After the curds and whey have been separated (and before Little Miss Muffet arrives) the curds may be further processed. For some cheeses the curds are cut into smaller pieces to expel liquid – the extent depends on the type of cheese being produced (harder cheeses are drier), while others are heated, stretched, or washed before salting for flavor and preservation. Finally, the cheese is shaped and aged under controlled temperature and humidity anywhere from a few days to several years! World-wide there are over 1,000 types of cheese each with its own unique flavor, texture, aroma, and appearance, resulting from a multitude of factors including the type of milk used, pasteurization, fat content, processing, flavoring additives, country of origin, and aging to name a few. Surprised there are so many different types of cheese? You “cheddar” believe it!
Feta is a soft, white, crumbly, Greek pickled cheese, made from sheep’s milk or a combination of goat’s and sheep’s milk. It is so popular in Greece that it accounts for 70% of cheese consumption in that country – making it a key ingredient of many traditional Greek foods, and unfortunately leaving very little available for export. The designation ‘feta’ is protected by European Union law, meaning only cheeses manufactured in traditional ways, in select Greek regions, composed solely of sheep’s milk or up to 30% goat’s milk, can be called feta. During production, the cheese is first dry salted in metal vessels or wooden barrels for days, before aging in brine anywhere from weeks to several months, where it becomes sharper in taste and firmer in texture as it ages. Feta is often categorized into soft and firm varieties, the firm being more expensive as it is considered higher in quality. Outside of the European Union, feta is used as a generic term to describe white, crumbly cheese, aged in brine, even when it is prepared from cow’s milk.
Nutrivore Score for Feta Cheese – 189
Feta cheese has a Nutrivore Score of 189, making it a medium nutrient-dense food! Plus, it is a low-carb food; feta cheese has 1.6 grams of net carbs per 1.5 ounce serving!
Per serving, feta cheese is an excellent source (20-50% daily value) of medium chain triglycerides (MCTs), vitamin B2 (riboflavin), and vitamin B12 (cobalamin); and a good source (10-20% daily value) of calcium, monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA), phosphorus, protein, selenium, vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), and zinc.
Feta Cheese Nutrition Facts
One serving of feta cheese is standardized to 1.5 ounces or about 42 grams. For reference, 1 cup of crumbled feta cheese weighs 150 grams which means: one serving of feta cheese is roughly equivalent to a little more than 1/4 cup of crumbled feta cheese.
|Feta Cheese||Nutrivore Score: 189||Nutrient Density: Medium|
|Serving Size: 1.5 ounces (42 grams)||Protein: 6.0 grams||Net Carbohydrates: 1.6 grams|
|Calories: 111||Total Fat: 9.0 grams||Dietary Fiber: 0.0 grams|
|Vitamin A||52.5 μg RAE||6% DV|
|Vitamin B1 (Thiamin)||64.7 μg||5% DV|
|Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)||354.5 μg||27% DV|
|Vitamin B3 (Niacin)||0.4 mg||3% DV|
|Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic Acid)||0.4 mg||8% DV|
|Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine)||178.1 μg||10% DV|
|Vitamin B7 (Biotin)||0.7 μg||2% DV|
|Vitamin B9 (Folate)||13.4 μg||3% DV|
|Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin)||0.7 μg||30% DV|
|Vitamin C||0.0 mg||0% DV|
|Vitamin D (D2 + D3)||0.2 μg||1% DV|
|Vitamin E||0.1 mg||1% DV|
|Vitamin K||0.8 μg||1% DV|
|Choline||6.5 mg||1% DV|
|Calcium||207.1 mg||16% DV|
|Copper||13.4 μg||1% DV|
|Iron||0.3 mg||2% DV|
|Magnesium||8.0 mg||2% DV|
|Manganese||11.8 μg||1% DV|
|Phosphorus||141.5 mg||11% DV|
|Potassium||26.0 mg||1% DV|
|Selenium||6.3 μg||11% DV|
|Sodium||478.4 mg||21% DV|
|Zinc||1.2 mg||11% DV|
|AMINO ACIDS & PEPTIDES|
Cheese Nutrition Varies With Type
There are over 1,000 types of cheese, each with its own unique flavor and nutrient profile, which means their Nutrivore Scores vary too! In general, dairy products, especially cheeses, have the lowest nutrient density among animal foods while also having the highest caloric density. The table below provides a sampling (a cheese board if you will) of Nutrivore Scores for differing types of cheese, all of which are similar in nutrient density.
Health Benefits of Feta Cheese Nutrients
Let’s take a closer look at all of the best and excellent source of nutrients found in a 1.5-ounce serving of feta cheese and see how they benefit our health.
Feta Cheese Provides 30% DV Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin)
Feta cheese is an excellent source of vitamin B12 (cobalamin), providing 30% of the daily value per 1.5-ounce serving!
Vitamin B12 (cobalamin) is a water-soluble vitamin that serves as a cofactor for enzymes involved in energy metabolism, red blood cell production, DNA synthesis, neurotransmitter production, nervous system health, and folate metabolism. As a result of these roles, vitamin B12 is vital for maintaining brain and nervous system health, and may have a protective effect against dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and depression. There’s also some evidence vitamin B12 may be cancer-protective, possibly through supporting folate metabolism (which then assists in repairing DNA damage). Learn more about vitamin B12 here.
Feta Cheese Provides 1.6 g of Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCTs)
Feta cheese is an excellent source of medium chain triglycerides (MCTs), providing 1.6 g of medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) per 1.5-ounce serving!
Medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) are a type of saturated fat composed of at least two medium-chain fatty acids. Their exceptionally rapid and direct absorption (straight from the intestine to the liver) allows them to be quickly burned for fuel. The earliest use of MCTs was to help treat epilepsy, but they also possess benefits for weight loss and body composition—including by spontaneously reducing appetite and food intake, and by increasing resting energy expenditure via thermogenesis (heat production). MCTs may also help increase insulin sensitivity among diabetics, improve memory and cognition in Alzheimer’s patients, improve exercise performance, and boost gut health. Learn more about MCTs here.
Feta Cheese Provides 27% DV Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)
Feta cheese is an excellent source of vitamin B2 (riboflavin), providing 27% of the daily value per 1.5-ounce serving!
Riboflavin (or vitamin B2) is a vitamin that helps form two important coenzymes involved in oxidation-reduction reactions: flavin mononucleotide (FMN), and flavin adenine dinucleotide (FAD). Collectively, these coenzymes are involved in antibody production, energy production, growth and development, skin and hair health, and the metabolism of several other nutrients (vitamin B6, niacin, folate, and iron). Research suggests a role for riboflavin in preventing or treating migraine headaches, cardiovascular disease, cataracts, and preeclampsia during pregnancy. It also possesses some anti-cancer properties due to its involvement in folate metabolism and MTHFR activity. Learn more about vitamin B2 here.
How Much Feta Cheese Should We Eat Per Day?
While dairy products may not be the most nutrient-dense foods, they are a “grate” source of calcium in addition to containing a range of other nutrients, all the while being a complete protein – “whey” better than you thought, huh?
Studies show a good target for most people is two servings of dairy products daily, with the most benefits coming from fermented versions like yogurt or kefir.
A 2021 meta-analysis of 55 prospective cohort studies found that dairy consumption in general was associated with a 10% lower risk of stroke, a 4% lower risk of coronary heart disease, and a 9% reduced risk of hypertension (high blood pressure). A 2016 meta-analysis of 29 cohort studies showed that cheese reduced cardiovascular disease risk, and fermented dairy reduced total mortality risk, albeit by a very modest amount (2% per 20 gram serving of fermented dairy or 10 gram serving of cheese). Importantly, a 2017 meta-analysis revealed a U-shaped dose response curve for dairy products, with intake up to about 400 grams daily modestly reducing all-cause mortality (again, only about a 2% effect), but higher consumption levels no longer being beneficial—intake greater than 1000 grams per day was associated with a 15% increased risk of total mortality.
A serving of milk or yogurt is 1 cup (8 ounces, or 250mL) and a serving of cheese is 1.5 ounces (about 42 grams). Learn more about dairy products here.
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