So cheese is one of my favorite foods. Nothing is more comforting then curling up with a grilled cheese (and maybe some tomato soup) especially when it is rainy or cold outside Cheese is not something I will ever give up so I wanted to learn how it may impact my fertility and overall health. Here is what I found.
As I researched cheese, I kept seeing warnings about listeria. I had heard about this in the past but was not really sure what it is. According to WebMD, consuming listeria can increase the chance of miscarriage. According to foodsafety.gov, the following foods can become contaminated:
- Ready-to-eat deli meats and hot dogs
- Refrigerated pâtés or meat spreads
- Unpasteurized (raw) milk and dairy products
- Soft cheese made with unpasteurized milk, such as queso fresco, Feta, Brie, Camembert
- Refrigerated smoked seafood
- Raw sprouts
It looks like avoiding soft cheese may be a good idea (especially if I ever do become pregnant). While I have never taken a pregnancy test, I think there may have been times I was pregnant and lost it very early. My cycle is usually like a clock but a few times I was a week late and felt several pregnancy symptoms. Even though I love cheese, I rarely eat soft versions so for me this will not be to difficult to avoid. There are other foods on this list that I plan to deal with later.
While information sources do not always agree, many claim that for women, cheese is ok for fertility. Some sources recommend it due to its calcium (of course in moderation!). Other sources state that it can aggravate conditions such as PCOS and Endometrosis. I have unexplained infertility and testing indicates these conditions are not an issue for me.
I did learn that cheese may impact male fertility. Men who eat 3+ serving of full fat dairy may have poorer quality sperm (You can read more about this here and here. Lucky for me, my DH is not big on dairy. He has also had several tests which indicate his swimmers are super healthy. I know that these tests do not tell you everything but this is still good news.
As I have said before, one of my health goals is to cut out processed food by paying attention to food labels and ingredients. I took a look at a few of the cheeses I sometimes buy.
Shredded Cheese is so convenient! Unfortunately, I found that it may not be the healthiest option. According to Fooducate, here are the ingredients
Vermont White Cheddar Cheese (Pasteurized Nonfat Milk and Milkfat, Cheese Culture, Salt, Enzymes), Sharp Cheddar Cheese (Pasteurized Nonfat Milk and Milkfat, Cheese Culture, Salt, Enzymes, Annatto [Color]), Mild Cheddar Cheese (Pasteurized Nonfat Milk and Milkfat, Cheese Culture, Salt, Enzymes, Annatto [Color]), Potato Starch, Cellulose Powder, and Calcium Sulfate Added to Prevent Caking, Natamycin (a Natural Mold Inhibitor).
Um, this looks a little scary. Lets check out a few of the ingredients
Annatto: This is a seed or extract primarily used to give cheese its yellow/orange color (apparently, cheese is not naturally bring yellow/orange). The FDA states that certification of this food additive is not necessary to protect public health. Some sources suggest that there may be issues with annatto but overall, it does not look that bad. Even so, I do like to avoid food dye and additives when I can.
Cellulose Powder: health.com states that cellulose is derived mainly from wood pulp and cotton, is used in paper manufacturing—and sometimes added to food. Humans can’t digest it(this does not mean it harms us). The FDA says it is safe but I am thinking this may not be the best thing to consume if my goal is to focus on avoiding processed foods.
Natamycin: This is also used to treat fungal eye infections. It has a C rating for pregnancy which simply means that one can not rule out a risk (it does not mean that it is dangerous for sure). The European Food Safety Authority also says it is safe to consume and I could not find any FDA warnings. One concern I did find is that it can lead to antibiotic resistance.
I often use sliced cheese to make sandwiches. This helps me with portion and calorie control. While those are not my primary health concerns, it is good to keep them in check. Using a slice prevents helps me control my serving. One cheese I like is Trader Joe’s sliced provolone. It has a 100 calories per slice.
According to Fooducate, here is the list of the ingredients: pasteurized milk, cheese cultures, animal rennet, salt.
Animal Rennet: Rennet is a complex of enzymes found in the stomach of baby mammals that allows them to process mother’s milk (consumethisfirst.com).
According to , here are some things to know
What you need to know:
1. Cheese has been manufactured using rennet for thousands of years, mostly in Europe.
2. Indeed, rennet is extracted from the lining of the inside of the stomach of mammals, and most commonly from the fourth stomach of young calves.
3. Rennet contains enzymes that cause milk to become cheese, by separating it into the solid curds and the liquid whey.
4. Different animal rennet are used as well to create other types of cheese.
5. Most cheese in the US is NOT manufactured using rennet, mostly due to the availability of cheaper alternatives.
6. Vegetable rennet is made from certain vegetables that have coagulation properties as well. Thistle is the most common form.
7. Microbial rennet is derived from molds. Yum. A side effect is a slightly bitter tasting cheese.
8. Genetically engineered rennet is derived from plants that have been injected with cow genes.
What to do at the supermarket:
9. Companies are not legally required to disclose the source of the rennet, so unless the product specifically states a non-animal source for rennet, you won’t know.
10. Another way to verify that the rennet is not from an animal source is to look for a kosher symbol. According to Jewish dietary laws, milk and meat ingredients cannot be mixed or eaten at the same time.
Overall, animal rennet does not look awful and may be hard to identify. It does though have a pretty big ick factor. If I had a choice, I would choose cheeses that did not contain it.
Here are a few I sometimes buy
Ingredients: Cheddar Cheese (Pasteurized Nonfat Milk and Milkfat, Cheese Culture, Salt, Enzymes, Annatto (Color)), Natamycin (a Natural Mold Inhibitor).
Ingredients: cultured pasteurized milk, salt, enzymes, annatto.
Cheese from Walmart actually looks better. Even so, for many reasons, I am trying to shop less at Walmart. Next I looked into other options.
Ingredients: Pasteurized Milk, Cheese Cultures, Salt, Enzymes. Contains No Animal Rennet.
HOORAY! It has no dyes (annatto) and specifically states that it has no animal rennett! For some reason though, I had a hard time accepting that it is not yellow/orange. I don’t know why this was an issue but it was. After trying it, my concern subsided. It is delicious! It is also not crazy expensive. An 8 oz block at Harris Teeter (a common grocery store in my area) costs $3.49, Kraft costs $3.89, and Harris Teeter store brand costs $3.19. Of course this is not the only cheese I will ever eat. Even so, I now have a lot of information I can use when buying one of my favorite foods.
I am now ending with a cheesy quote 🙂 (Get it? I know I’m awful)