A Guide to Healthy Cheese
While cheese contains tons of protein, vitamins A, B12, riboflavin, and minerals like calcium, phosphorus, and zinc, it's also high in fat and salt. Cheese sometimes gets a bad rap, but it can easily fit into a healthy diet when eaten in moderation.
Natural cheeses like cheddar are about 30-40 percent fat, while cheese from skim or part-skim milk have about 7-15 percent fat. Harder cheeses often have more fat than soft cheeses, but you can cut back on your fat intake by choosing those labeled "low-fat" or "fat-free."
For soft cheeses, look for those made from skim or part-skim milk. While natural cheese may have a higher fat content than processed ones, you're better off with the less processed, natural cheeses because they have more nutrients and fewer artificial ingredients.
Cheese can be high in salt, depending on the type. Swiss (Emmentaler) and Parmigiano Reggiano are naturally lower in sodium and soft cheeses have less sodium than hard cheese. In general, try to avoid cheeses with more than 400 mg of sodium per serving.
If you're lactose intolerant, there are still cheeses you may be able to eat. Cheese made from sheep or goat milk, such as feta, is naturally lower in lactose. Aged cheese also have less lactose. As cheese ages, lactose converts to lactic acid, which makes it less troubling for people with lactose intolerance. Another benefit of aged cheese is that it's often higher in calcium. Popular aged cheeses include asiago, cheddar, Gruyere, Parmesan, reggiano, and Romano.
Healthy Cheese Choices
Looking for low-fat, low-sodium cheese will help you find the healthier cheeses at the grocery store, but there's more to it than that. Some specific cheeses, for a variety of reasons, tend to be better for your health. Below are some of the healthiest cheeses on the market.
This strong and slightly fruity cheese is one of the healthiest cheeses you can eat. Made from half naturally skim milk, it's lower in fat than many other natural cheese. Plus, it's aged for three years making it easy to grate over salads, chicken, or pasta.
Naturally low in fat (five percent), Italian ricotta is made from whey rather than whole milk. Good ricotta should be firm and moist with a slightly grainy texture. The sweet flavor makes it a classic filling for desserts, but you can use it as bagel, cracker, or fresh fruit spread.
Cottage cheese, popular among athletes and people looking to lose weight, is low in fat and has a large amount of casein protein for muscle-building. It has a slightly sweet flavor making it a great combination with fruit or jams. If you want to cut back fat, cottage cheese is a good replacement for ricotta cheese in recipes. Keep in mind that cottage cheese tends to be high in sodium, so select reduced sodium cottage cheese.
The most popular cheese in the Mediterranean is also one of the healthiest choices. Soft, pure white feta is made from ewe and goat milk, so it's unlikely to bother the lactose-sensitive. Because it crumbles easily, it works well in salads, wraps and pitas. Good quality feta cheese shouldn't taste too salty. If you get a salty piece, soak it in cold water or milk for a few minutes to cut down on the salt content.
This creamy Dutch cheese made from cow milk is known by its yellow color and sweet, nutty flavor. While whole milk Gouda is fairly high in fat, some Goudas are made from partly skim milk, reducing the fat content. Standard Gouda is also lower in fat than cream Gouda. If you are sensitive to lactose, choose Gouda that has aged at least a year. This cheese works well for snacks and in sandwiches and aged Gouda can be grated over pasta and potato dishes.
You don't have to give up cheese just because you're trying to eat healthier. While you should still use moderation with even healthy cheeses, there are several types of cheese that will add flavor and texture to your dishes without loading them up with fat and salt.
Below is the nutrient breakdown of the cheeses discussed above. Parmigiano Reggiano cheese is the hardest and densest of the cheeses listed which is why it contains the highest amounts of nutrients. As a cheese is aged, moisture evaporates out concentrating most of the nutrients. Harder cheese have richer flavors, so we typically eat less of them than softer cheeses. If you’re preparing a recipe that calls for a cheese that you don’t have on hand, you can replace the cheese with one of the substitutions provided.
|Cheese||Calories per 100 grams||Fat (g)||Protein (g)||Substitutions|
|Parmigiano Reggiano||392||26||36||Asiago, Romano|
|Ricotta (part skim)||138||8||11||Goat Cheese, queso Fresco, low-fat cottage cheese|
|Cottage Cheese||103||5||12||Ricotta, Fromage blanc|
|Gouda||356||27||25||Edam, Monterey Jack, Muenster|
- National Dairy Council