Good News: Cheese Is Healthier Than You Might Think, Dietitian Says
Cheese is the ultimate savory comfort food, yet there's lots of debate over whether everyone's favorite dairy product is actually considered "healthy."
Fortunately, studies show that cheese does boast some health benefits. For example, fermented cheese contains probiotics, which are healthy gut bacteria that can improve your digestion and immunity. Of course the benefits depend on the types of cheese you consume, with cottage cheese containing 15 to 20 grams of protein compared to cheddar which typically has five to seven grams per serving.
Ultimately, cheese is fairly nutritious, says Anna Kippen, MS, RDN, a registered dietitian at Cleveland Clinic Wellness, especially in smaller serving sizes. In fact, it's considered one of the most nutrient-dense snacks out there because it's rich in minerals, fats, and calcium. Most cheeses are also a keto-friendly treat because it's a low-carb snack that you can eat by itself or use as a topping.
It's all about balance, though. Cheese is high in saturated fat and sodium, so it shouldn't be consumed in large quantities. We've got the tips and advice you need to make cheese a part of your healthy diet, so grab a slice and read on.
— Additional reporting by Melanie Whyte
Is Cheese Good For You?
Cheese can "absolutely" be considered nutritious, Kippen tells POPSUGAR. "Cheese can be a wonderful source of vitamin A, protein, and calcium," she explains. "It also can lead to increased satiety by providing us with a serving of fat."
Although rich in protein and calcium, cheese doesn't have high iron content, and because it's high in saturated fat and salt, it can raise cholesterol levels. However, most types of cheese are gluten-free, which means it's safe for those diagnosed with celiac disease to consume it. And because it's low in carbs, it doesn't raise blood sugar.
Of course, this goes for people who are able to consume lactose. If you're lactose intolerant, eating too much cheese can lead to gastrointestinal issues, Kippen says — noting that aged hard cheese is likely to go over a little better than other kinds.
Can I Eat Cheese While Monitoring My Weight?
As with almost all foods, Kippen says it's best not to eat too much of anything. That's easier said than done, though, especially when it comes to cheese: warm and melted, sliced and cold, it's so easy to start and just keep on going. That's one reason why cheese has a bad reputation, Kippen says: it's a rich source of fat and calories that is easy to overindulge in.
The American Heart Association recommends 2–3 servings of fat-free or low-fat dairy products for adults.
But Kippen adds that the amount of cheese you should eat really depends on the rest of your diet, as well as your weight and any medical conditions. Talk to a dietitian for more personalized guidelines.
Cheese can be a healthy part of a lifestyle promoting weight management, Kippen says. Again, moderation is the key.
Kippen also recommends cutting back on saturated fats and calories in other areas. Eating at a slight caloric deficit can be a big help. So if cheese is a favorite snack or topping, you can definitely eat it in moderation, but you'll also want to balance out your calorie and fat consumption in other areas to ensure that you're still burning slightly more calories than you consume.
Which Cheeses Are Healthiest?
Kippen typically recommends a lower-fat cheese that has fewer calories and less saturated fat. "Part-skim mozzarella and reduced-fat cottage cheese are two of my favorites," she said. But personal preference also matters, and you want to eat what you like.
If you have trouble limiting yourself when it comes to milder cheeses, "I would recommend choosing cheese with stronger flavors so that it's easier to have an appropriate portion size," Kippen says. "It can be a lot easier to have a pinch of parmesan or crumble of feta on your salad than just one ounce of mozzarella." (Here's more on which cheeses are best for weight loss in particular.)
Ultimately, though, it comes down to balancing personal preference with moderation, Kippen says.