Pile on the Parmesan, the Tastiest New Health Food

In the Venn diagram of good foods and bad, cheese has traditionally occupied the intersection—healthy-ish. But new research is bumping cheese into the good-for-you circle, and there’s a standout: Parmesan.

It’s aged, which is key. Time spent in the cellar helps protein develop, causing Parm to have a higher percentage of the muscle-building macronutrient compared with softer cheeses including cheddar and brie. One ounce has 121 calories with 11 grams of complete protein and one gram of carbohydrate. And it packs a flavor punch. An ounce of mozzarella is unsatisfying, while a sprinkle of Parmesan goes a long way.

And the cheese is uniquely suited to athletes—so much so that by European standards, it’s considered a functional food. One ounce of Parmesan contains a third of your day’s calcium needs. Athletes need sufficient calcium to grow, maintain, and mend bone tissue, which helps stave off fractures, nutrition scientists at Purdue University advise.

And research from the University of Molise in Italy (naturally) suggests lactic acid in Parmesan may infuse it with probiotics, which help balance the gut microbiome. Better still, Parmesan that is aged at least two years seems to be one of the few dairy products that people with lactose intolerance can tolerate.

Shave Parmesan liberally on soup, vegetables, and salads. Freeze the rinds, and the next time you cook a vegetable stock, add them to the pot, simmer, and strain. It adds depth of flavor and a nice texture. Since wine has health benefits, too, pair Parmesan with a nice Italian red.

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