Why you should avoid Processed Cheese

Processed cheese has natural fermented cheese as a base component. Some varieties, in order to lower production cost, may use a dairy substitute like milk protein concentrate (MPC). Then there are a few artificial ingredients added such as emulsifiers and food dyes. Whey, the liquid co-product that’s actually removed in traditional cheesemaking, is also added back into the mix.

A ‘process cheese food’ for example is one that’s at least 51% natural cheese by weight plus some optional dairy components such as whey and other non-dairy additives. Regardless of the label, all types of processed cheeses have the advantages of longer shelf-life and product uniformity. These features make such products convenient for the consumer but the presence of artificial ingredients introduces certain health risks.

Risks of Processed Cheeses:

One culinary difference you’ll easily notice between natural and processed cheese is the way they melt. In the presence of high heat, the former tends to separate into oil and globs of milk protein while the latter is able to retain more consistency. This smooth melting is due to the emulsifiers added in the making of such cheeses. One of the functions of emulsifiers in food processing is to keep oil and water bound together, as on their own they would naturally separate.

Unfortunately some compounds used as emulsifiers are known to have potential health risks. Sodium phosphate is one such substance you’ll occasionally find listed as an ingredient in processed cheese products. It’s also actually used as a medication and doctors warn that it can damage the kidneys. Examples of other harmful emulsifiers are potassium phosphate, which may trigger allergic reactions, and tartrate, which may cause diarrhea.

Food colouring is also applied to ‘processed cheese. Yellow 6 and Yellow Tartrazine are the ones often used. These two food additives are actually banned in certain European countries. Animal studies have shown them to promote tumor growth in the adrenal glands and kidneys.

Processed cheeses don’t just come in the traditional form of solid blocks like their natural counterparts. They can be packaged in bottles and be spreadable just like peanut butter. They can also be placed in aerosol cans and be sprayed just like whipped cream. This spray-able product achieves its appropriate viscosity through the addition of tri-sodium phosphate, a variation of the emulsifier compound that’s also used in cleansers and stain-removers. Some canola oil is also mixed in to keep the cheese in its semi-solid state. This edible oil comes from rapeseed, a genetically modified crop.