Parmesan cheese is a particular variety of hard cheese of spectacular savor. Produced in Northern Italy, it is a natural product of very high quality. Parmesan cheese, or Parmigiano Reggiano, is an important source of essential nutrients such as calcium, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, vitamin A and B vitamins. It provides excellent amounts of quality protein as well as fats and cholesterol. Eating parmesan in moderate amounts can have visible benefits on the digestive system, support brain and nervous system health and increase energy levels.
What is parmesan more exactly? The real parmesan cheese is Parmigiano Reggiano, produced in several provinces in the Emilia Romagna region in northern Italy. It is an artisanal cheese product manufactured from unpasteurized cow milk, natural rennet and natural whey, making it a 100% natural product. The cheese is preserved using salt and aged from 14 months to 30 months or more in special conditions in order to acquire its unique flavor profile. Any change brought to the original recipe, production process or ingredient quality results in the production of cheeses similar to the original parmesan, but which are not real parmesan.
Parmesan is an original cheese product, protected by law in Europe. It holds a protective designation of origin certification (PDO) which ensures a high standard of quality. Any cheese variety more or less similar to parmesan is not actually parmesan, but an imitation. And imitations do not keep to the same quality standards and do not have the same properties as the original parmesan cheese, Parmigiano Reggiano. The reason why they have the same name is because there isn’t a legislation in place to protect the trademark parmesan name, thus allowing for others to capitalize on the fame of the original product. Parmigiano Reggiano is the only real parmesan cheese, despite its name being generalized to include other similar cheese varieties.
The original parmesan cheese is produced in the form of large wheels of cheese which weigh anywhere from 33 to 40 kilograms. It is usually aged for at least 14 months, but higher quality parmesan cheese is often aged for 18 or 30 months. The cheese variety can be found on store shelves in the following form:
1) Large wheel of parmesan cheese, often found in specialty stores.
2) Large triangular chunks.
3) Parmesan flakes or shredded parmesan.
4) Grated parmesan which tends to lose flavor.
Parmesan cheese nutrition. From a nutritional point of view, parmesan cheese provides a variety of health benefits, but is only good for you if eaten in moderation. Eating too much parmesan can provide too much sodium, fat and cholesterol to one’s diet. However, consumed occasionally, it can prove a healthy addition to one’s diet, provided of course there are no contraindications so ask your doctor about it. This being said, here are the top 7 health benefits of parmesan cheese:
1) Rich source of protein. According to the USDA, 100 g of parmesan cheese provides about 32-35 g of protein, an essential macronutrient required for a variety of functions. Protein plays important roles at cell level such as cell signaling, immune system responses, DNA repair as well as contributes to connective tissue health, including hair and nails health (read more about the benefits of protein). Moreover, parmesan is considered a source of complete protein because it provides all 9 essential amino acids that our body cannot produce but requires for optimal health.
2) Easily digestible. Parmesan is an aged cheese and its lengthy aging process causes changes in its structure such as making it easier to digest. Generally, animal sources of food take longer to be digested, but parmesan requires as little as one hour to be digested. This is because the aging process causes proteins to break down into free amino acids and shorter chains of amino acids which are easier to digest. Actually, the gritty, whitish crystals or spots seen in aged parmesan are crystals of amino acids such as leucine, isoleucine or tyrosine.
3) Source of B vitamins for brain health and energy. Parmesan cheese provides good amounts of all B vitamins, including vitamin B12, choline and biotin. B group vitamins modulate brain and nervous system activity by helping synthesize neurotransmitters such as serotonin and the hormone melatonin which regulates sleep. Choline in particular has benefits for the brain and is potentially useful for prevention of neural tube defects in newborns along with folic acid and vitamin B12. B vitamins also play a crucial role in energy metabolism because they help synthesize fatty acids and amino acids and eating parmesan which is a rich source can improve energy levels.
4) Good amounts of vitamin A for strong immunity. Parmesan cheese is an generous source of vitamin A, a fat-soluble nutrient with strong antioxidant and immune-boosting properties, needed for a strong immune system. Vitamin A also contributes to good eyesight and skin health.
5) Good for bone health. Parmesan provides calcium, phosphorus, magnesium and vitamin D, all nutrients with a direct action on bone health. 100 g of parmesan cheese contains around 1184 mg of calcium, slightly over the recommended daily allowance for an average adult. Calcium goes in the composition of our bones together with phosphorus and magnesium while vitamin D stimulates calcium absorption. All nutrients ensure strong healthy bones.
6) Has prebiotic properties. Parmesan cheese is a 100% natural dairy product and a prebiotic food. What this means is it nourishes the good bacteria in our digestive tract and regulates digestion contributing to good health. What makes parmesan cheese a prebiotic food is the fact that it is made from unpasteurized milk and aged, allowing for natural fermentation processes to support good gut bacteria populations. And because parmesan has less than 1 mg of lactose, it can be consumed by those lactose intolerant.
7) Source of magnesium and zinc. Parmesan cheese provides good amounts of magnesium, a mineral with a beneficial action on the cardiovascular system. Magnesium counteracts the action of sodium, reducing its side effects. Parmesan also contains 30% of the RDA of zinc, contributing to a strong immune system, hence the reason it is a food recommended to people of all ages.
Other nutrition facts. How many calories, sodium and (un)saturated fats are in 100 g of parmesan cheese?
Calories: about 400 kcal.
Sodium: 650-670 mg.
Total fat content: around 29 g of fat.
Saturated fats: 19 g.
Unsaturated fats: 10 g.
Cholesterol: around 85 mg.
Conclusion. Despite its high sodium content, parmesan can be a healthy addition to one’s diet, provided it is consumed in moderation. Similarly, if you eat parmesan in moderation, the fat and cholesterol it provides to your diet can be beneficial because our brain and entire system need fats, including cholesterol to keep us alive and healthy. While it may not be an ideal food choice for everyone, there are visible benefits to eating parmesan, a cheese produced naturally, without additives and a great source of vitamin A, B vitamins, calcium, phosphorus, zinc and complete protein.