Newswise — A study in the June/July Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety, published by the Institute of Food Technologists, reviews the current status of research to develop desirable cheeses with low fat and/or low sodium, their regulatory and labeling status, consumer acceptability and challenges for further efforts.

"Cheese is a nutrient-dense food; however, it is also perceived as being high in fat and sodium. This discourages some consumers from including cheese in their diets," writes Mark Johnson, lead researcher at the Wisconsin Center for Dairy Research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. "There are a few reduced-fat products but very few low-fat or fat-free products that have desirable functionality and flavor."

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, to make label claims of "reduced sodium" or "reduced fat," most foods need to have at least a 25 percent reduction of sodium or fat levels when compared with its conventional counterpart. For Cheddar to be labeled "low fat," there would have to be an 82 percent reduction in total fat due to the FDA requirement that the three grams of fat allowed for low-fat foods be calculated per 50 grams, not per the 30-gram reference amount.

Consumers are not willing to sacrifice quality to achieve low-fat cheese consumption. "Based on actual consumer trials, Cheddar cheese with 50 percent fat reduction seems to be the current technological limit while still achieving satisfactory sensory acceptance," Johnson writes. "In general, consumers perceive lower-fat cheeses to be waxier, and less smooth and meltable than full-fat cheese. Fat also is responsible for the richness and mouthfeel of cheese, and low-fat cheese lacks those sensory attributes."

There are naturally low-sodium cheeses, such as Swiss. In other natural and processed cheeses, the best current option is to replace sodium salts with sodium/potassium blends. However, use of potassium salts is limited by the development of bitter and other off flavors. Research is ongoing to find alternatives or to mask the potassium bitterness.

With the current 50-gram rule, the sodium level in Cheddar, mozzarella and processed cheeses would have to be reduced by 55 percent, 47 percent and 80 percent, respectively, to achieve low-sodium status. If the 50-gram rule were eliminated, it would enable cheesemakers to more easily make low-sodium products and provide consumers with more options to reduce sodium intake.

Johnson concludes "reducing fat and sodium in cheese, while maintaining quality and safety, continues to be a challenge for the dairy industry worldwide."

To read the research paper, visit

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Founded in 1939, the Institute of Food Technologists is a nonprofit scientific society with more than 20,000 individual members working in food science, food technology, and related professions in industry, academia, and government. IFT serves as a conduit for multidisciplinary science thought leadership, championing the use of sound science through knowledge sharing, education, and advocacy. For more information on IFT, visit

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Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety (Jun/Jul-2009)