Greasy slide to heaven

Can you recollect eating a pizza without that cheesy experience? Though it is so much a part of today's life, beware of its side effects the next time you savour cheese and avoid overindulgence.

CHEESE GOES as far back as when man first domesticated animals for milk. According to legend, an Arab trader crossing the desert found that the milk he was carrying in a bag made from a sheep's stomach had curdled. The sun's heat, coupled with the natural enzyme, rennin, in the lining of the stomach coagulated the proteins in the milk, turning it into semi-solid curd and liquid whey. Around the world, cheese-making became a way of preserving the milk of cows, buffalo, sheep, goats, horses, llamas and yaks: 10 litres of milk reduces to a litre of cheese.

Ripening of cheese involves the breakdown of milk fats to fatty acids, proteins to amino acids, lactose (milk sugar) to easily digestible lactic, acetic and propionic acids. Because it contains so much milk product in a concentrated form, cheese is one of the most calorie-dense foods around. A cheese-topped pizza may be a slice of heaven, but it will also get you there prematurely. Eat too many pizzas, burgers and desserts with cheese, and you'll end up with all the ill effects of atherosclerosis and obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, increased risk for cancers of breast, uterus and colon, and a greasy complexion to boot. People on Mono Amine Oxidase inhibitors (MAOs) will find that the high tyramine content of cheese can lead to a sudden spike in blood pressure, putting them at increased risk for strokes.

But it is not all bad news. Eating moderate amounts can be part of a healthful diet. It can prevent dental caries by neutralising plaque acids, stimulating saliva flow and by promoting the remineralisation of teeth with calcium. Most adult Indians lack the enzyme, lactase, necessary to digest milk sugar. This can lead to Lactose Intolerance, characterised by abdominal discomfort, flatulence, and diarrhoea.

Cheese contains milk sugar in a digestible form. It is also a rich source of calcium, vital for building healthy bones and preventing age-related bone loss.

Recent research shows that mice fed on cheese had healthy circulations. Apparently, a fatty acid present in cheese and milk, Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA), protects blood vessels from the clogging effects of cholesterol.

David Kritchevsky, the researcher who made the discovery, says, "I consider it God's joke." Trials on humans are still awaited. In the meantime, stick to low fat cheese!


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