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Parmesan Cheese: Are There Health Benefits?

Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on October 28, 2020

While many consumers think anything called ‘parmesan’ is the same as the Italian Parmigiano-Reggiano, that’s actually not the case in the US. There aren't strict regulations regarding what can go into the manufacturing of cheese labeled 'parmesan' in America.

True Parmigiano-Reggiano is a storied cheese with a simple recipe. It has only three ingredients: fresh milk from the parma/Reggio region of Italy, salt, and rennet. Many kinds of cheese labeled parmesan don't fit these criteria, since additional or different ingredients were used in their creation. For the sake of clarity, “parmesan cheese” here refers to the real-deal, made-in-Italy Parmigiano-Reggiano.

There's a reason why real parmesan has such a tightly controlled definition. Parmesan has a global reputation as one of the best cheeses money can buy. It's celebrated as delicious on its own, and considered a luxurious and versatile ingredient when cooking. 

Nutrition Information

While there are different dairies that produce parmesan, the process is so well controlled that the nutrition information remains consistent across cheesemakers. For every 100 grams of parmesan, there are approximately:

  • Calories: 392
  • Protein: 35.71 grams
  • Fat: 25 grams
  • Carbohydrates: 3.57 grams
  • Fiber: 0 grams

Interestingly, parmesan is naturally lactose-free, in spite of being a dairy product. It does contain a number of micronutrients, however. Parmesan is a good source of:

Potential Health Benefits of Parmesan

One of the biggest micronutrients in parmesan, calcium, is a major source of a number of health benefits. Parmesan is also a good way to consume protein, especially for people who don’t eat meat.

Counteracting Osteoporosis

Parmesan is classified in Europe as a functional food, meaning a food that has medicinal benefits. Its high amount of bioavailable calcium is specifically highlighted as beneficial for counteracting osteoporosis and supporting good bone health. It is also high in phosphorus, another essential mineral for bone development.

Preventing Protein Deficiency

One of the challenges faced by many on a vegetarian diet is consuming enough protein. Dairy products, and cheese, in particular, can be an abundant protein source for those excluding meat. Experts recommend around 3.5 ounces of protein-rich foods, such as cheese, in a healthy vegetarian diet.

Healthy Blood Pressure

Calcium is a vital nutrient for maintaining healthy blood pressure. It helps blood vessels to contract and relax. Just 1 ounce of parmesan contains approximately 312 mg of calcium, or approximately 30% of the daily recommended value for adults.

Potential Risks of Parmesan

Overall, there are few risks to consuming parmesan. It’s a lactose-free cheese, and its hard consistency makes it safe to cut away moldy pieces and eat the remainder. However, there is a substance in parmesan – and all cheeses – that can produce an allergic reaction.

Casein Allergy

Also sometimes referred to as milk allergy, a casein allergy means a person is allergic to the protein casein, found in milk and milk products. A reaction usually occurs within a few minutes to a few hours after the milk or milk product has been ingested.

Symptoms include hives, wheezing, itching and tingling, swelling of the mouth, shortness of breath, and vomiting. In extreme cases, a person may experience life-threatening anaphylaxis, or severe allergic symptoms, such as loss of consciousness or death. Children are the most likely to have a casein allergy, and many will outgrow it over time.

Weight Gain

Although parmesan cheese has many health benefits, it’s also high in calories. When consumed in high volumes, it can lead to weight gain. Carrying extra weight significantly increases the risk of serious diseases like heart attack and stroke. Like most delicious foods, parmesan cheese is best consumed in moderation.

Healthier Alternatives

If you’re concerned about calories, you could try cheeses with lower-fat content. The following cheeses are all lower in total fat and saturated fat than parmesan:

  • Cottage Cheese
  • Ricotta
  • Mozzarella
  • Feta
  • Camembert
  • Edam
  • Soft Goat’s Cheese

Show Sources

SOURCES:

Britannica: “Parmesan.”

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “Heart Disease and Stroke.”

Cheese: Chemistry, Physics and Microbiology: “Parmigiano-Reggiano.”

Clinical Cases in Mineral and Bone Metabolism: “Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese and Bone Health.”

Harvard Health Publishing: “Key Minerals to help control blood pressure.”

Heart Matters: “7 cheese facts that will surprise you.”

Mayo Clinic: “If cheese has mold growing on it, should I throw it away?”

Mayo Clinic: “Milk allergy.”

Mayo Clinic: “Vegetarian Diet – How to get the best nutrition.”

National Institutes of Health: “Calcium.”

U.S. Department of Agriculture: “PARMESAN CHEESE.”

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