When you think of parmesan cheese what do you think first? For many people, it’s the powdered or grated variety that is poured over pasta or sprinkled on pizza.
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While this spice is sure to add flavor, there is another Parmesan cheese that is an even better choice: Parmigiano-Reggiano, “the real cheese that comes in a loaf from Northern Italy,” says nutritionist Alexis Supan, RD.
As it turns out, Parmigiano-Reggiano is not only delicious, but also nutritious and has numerous health benefits.
What is Parmigiano Reggiano cheese?
Parmigiano-Reggiano is a hard cheese with only three ingredients: cow’s milk, salt and rennet. The latter is “a mixture of different enzymes that we use to make cheese,” says Supan.
Because it has so few ingredients, it’s a much denser, drier cheese. “Parmigiano-Reggiano is packed tight,” notes Supan. “If you compare that to a cheddar or mozzarella, the water content isn’t nearly as high. It’s getting much drier, so it’s crumbling and falling apart. “
Parmigiano-Reggiano doesn’t pose many health risks either. “Unless you have a very specific casein intolerance or allergy, you don’t have to worry,” says Supan. “When you have that, you want to stay away.”
Nutritional Values of Parmesan Cheese
One ounce (28 grams) serving of Parmigiano Reggiano contains:
- 112 calories.
- 8 grams of total fat.
- 5 grams of saturated fat.
- 2.6 grams of monounsaturated fat.
- 0 grams of carbohydrates.
- Less than 1 milligram of lactose.
- 27% daily value of calcium.
- 14% daily value of sodium.
- 15% daily value of phosphorus.
What Are the Health Benefits of Parmesan Cheese?
Unlike other cheeses, which can be high in unhealthy saturated fat and sodium and not offer many nutrients, Parmigiano-Reggiano offers several health benefits.
Packed full of protein
Supan says Parmigiano Reggiano has 10 grams of protein in a one ounce serving. “To give you an idea, an ounce would be somewhere between a quarter cup and a third cup if we crushed it. Ten grams of protein for so much cheese is really unbelievable. “
Rich in calcium
Parmigiano-Reggiano is also a great source of calcium. With the same serving size as above, you are getting “at least a quarter of your daily calcium value,” says Supan. This is important for sustainable bone health, especially in old age. “When you’re younger, you’re more likely to drink milk and eat more cheese and other things that give you a lot of calcium in your diet,” she adds. “As you get older, you don’t get nearly as much calcium as you need.”
Supan adds that Parmigiano-Reggiano’s calcium and protein are high quality as they have “very high bioavailability” which means your body can use these elements efficiently.
“Your body can absorb most of this calcium and break down most of this protein very easily, which is fantastic,” says Supan. “Some things you eat may contain certain ingredients and nutrients that you need, but your body is struggling to break them down in the way you need them to be.”
If you have unpleasant digestive problems after consuming foods containing lactose, you are not alone. “I hear that all the time from people who are getting older – their ability to tolerate milk or ice cream is greatly reduced,” says Supan. However, Parmigiano-Reggiano “saves the day”: “The way it is put together leaves a cheese that is very, very low in lactose. And it’s so low that we consider it a lactose-free product. “
Low in fat and carbohydrates
One ounce serving of Parmigiano Reggiano has approximately 8 grams of total fat and no carbohydrates. “People often throw warning signs around dairy products like butter and all kinds of cheese and say, ‘Oh, this is too risky, the fat in it is really bad,'” says Supan. “But Parmigiano-Reggiano contains a lot of medium-chain fatty acids. When we examine them closely, they have been shown to have some health benefits. ”These fats, found in coconut oil, for example, can potentially lower cholesterol and blood sugar.
A good source of probiotics
Parmigiano-Reggiano contains lactobacillus bacteria, which are a good bacterium that “makes your gut happy,” says Supan. “The more we learn about our intestinal health and keep our stomachs and intestines healthy, the more we find that it has a huge impact on our overall health.” This could lead to a stronger immune system, for example. “We’re starting to see a link between probiotics and gut health in everything,” she adds.
What is the difference between Parmigiano-Reggiano and other cheeses?
Parmigiano-Reggiano is highly regulated, which means it is only made in certain Italian provinces or in certain areas of Italian provinces, including:
- Reggio Emilia.
- In Bologna, on the left of the Reno River.
- In Mantua, on the right of the Po.
In these areas, the grass that cows eat contains certain types of good bacteria. “These good bacteria stay in their system and are therefore in the milk from which this cheese is made,” says Supan Nutrients, a lot more benefits. “
In contrast, the cow’s milk used for mass-market cheese is not as nutritious. “A lot of these cows are being fed grain or other things so they can produce a lot more milk,” says Supan. “It focuses more on production and quantity than quality.”
The active process of making Parmigiano Reggiano cheese takes a few weeks, although the aging process takes much longer. “At least they’ll let the cheese age for a year in the various ripening rooms,” says Supan. “But it can take up to several years, depending on the type of cheese you want.”
What is the difference between grated Parmesan cheese?
Bottled or shaker grated Parmesan cheese is different from Parmigiano-Reggiano, although this type is regulated in the United States. “It has to be a cow’s milk cheese that has matured for at least 10 months,” says Supan.
Given the lower price and mass production of this cheese, chances are the milk wasn’t from grass-fed cows, she adds, meaning it isn’t already that nutritious. However, to prevent clumping, this grated cheese also contains additional ingredients and fillers.
It can get scary here, says Supan. “The extra ingredients are harmless if kept in what they should be. But when companies have run quality control tests, the actual amount added to the cheese is sometimes nowhere near as much as reported. ”For example, experts have found cheaper brands of cellulose to vary widely – up to 10% when actually listed Amount is 4% or less.
“You ask yourself: ‘How much cheese do I really buy?'” Says Supan. “If you don’t get the right amounts, the nutrition label will also be wrong. You’re not getting as much protein or calcium as it says it is. You also create a health risk by adding so many fillers – and you’re already starting out with a slightly inferior product with this cheese. “
So, if you know exactly what you are consuming, choosing Parmigiano-Reggiano is the way to go. “Parmigiano Reggiano is a very safe cheese,” says Supan. “It’s probably a bit safer than most people think. It can really be a great cheese for everyone. “