If you’ve decided to take the plunge into cleaning up your diet, let’s address a question that’s probably gone through your mind: “Can I still eat cheese if I am trying to eat healthier?”
We’ve got good news… you can! You don’t need to give up cheese entirely if you’re trying to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight. “As long as you are making healthful choices overall, you can fit cheese into a healthy eating plan,” says Andrea N. Giancoli, MPH, RD, Openfit Nutrition Manager. (Collective sigh of relief!)
So how does this gooey goodness break down nutritionally? Giancoli explains that cheese provides fat and some protein and calcium, but it also contains cholesterol, saturated fat, and sodium. Since most cheeses contain more fat than protein, they should be classified as a fat (not a protein) in your meal plan.
To keep your cheese consumption as healthful as possible, “you have to be careful with portion size,” Giancoli says. “Stick to a ½ to one ounce at a time. You want to get the best out of it without getting too much.” An ounce — or about the size of four dice — is the standard serving size for cheese.
What Is the Healthiest Cheese?
To help you choose which ones to melt, spread, and slice, here’s a list of the healthiest cheeses, ranked from least to most healthy, keeping in mind not just calories, but also protein, sodium, and fat.
Brie and other soft cheeses
Nutrition info: 95 calories per 1-ounce serving, 8 g fat, 5 g saturated fat, 0 g carbs, 6 g protein, 178 mg sodium
Even creamy, gooey Brie can find a place in a healthy diet — if you mind your portions. “If you are moderating your intake of it, it’s fine,” says Giancoli. When you find yourself in front of a cheese tray laden with wedges of soft French cheese, “try to limit yourself to one serving and then walk away,” she says.
And be aware that not all brie is created equal. “Triple cream” Brie is even heavier — 12 grams of fat and 8 grams saturated fat per ounce.
Nutrition info: 75 calories per 1-ounce serving, 6 g fat, 4 g saturated fat, 1 g carbs, 4 g protein, 323 mg sodium
Tangy feta is often soaked in a salty brine, which increases the sodium. This is something you want to keep in mind, especially if you’re trying to cut down on how much sodium you consume. Crumble feta on top of food, where you’ll taste all its salty goodness, and then try to limit sodium elsewhere in the dish.
Nutrition info: 72 calories per 1-ounce serving, 4.5 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 1 g carbs, 7 g protein, 175 mg sodium
Part-skim mozzarella is lower in saturated fat and cholesterol than whole-milk varieties. Hold the “extra cheese” on your next pizza — a slice can easily contain more than a 1-ounce serving of mozz. “We need to be very conscious about servings,” says Giancoli. “The more cheese we use, the more fat, saturated fat, calories, and sodium we’ll add to a dish.”
Nutrition info: 49 calories per 1-ounce serving, 2 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 0.5 g carbs, 7 g protein, 247 mg sodium
Not all cheese can be made low-fat, but cheddar can (as well as Colby) so reach for those versions if you can find them. Opt for sharp over mild, says Giancoli, because “you get more bang for your buck with flavor.”
Nutrition info: 38 calories per slice (¾ ounce), 1.5 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 1 g carbs, 5 g protein, 376 mg sodium
While cheese snobs might disagree, American cheese isn’t that bad from a nutritional standpoint. It tends to be lower in fat (but higher in sodium, so look at those labels!) and has a good amount of protein. Plus, slices make for built-in portion control! “Slices are often less than an ounce, and maybe you find that you only need one slice,” says Giancoli.
Nutrition info: 111 calories per 1-ounce serving, 7 g fat, 4 g saturated fat, 1 g carbs, 10 g protein, 333 mg sodium
The strong flavor of Parmesan adds an umami flavor, and it goes a long way so you don’t need as much, says Giancoli. Try finely shredding or thinly shaving it on top of dishes. “As with salt, you taste it more on the surface than mixed in,” she says. And although it’s higher in calories than the previous cheeses, it does have an impressive amount of protein!
Nutrition info: 171 calories per ½-cup serving, 10 g fat, 6 g saturated fat, 6 g carbs, 14 g protein, 123 mg sodium
Ricotta can be a great, high-protein add-in to many dishes. You can even make ricotta from scratch, and it’s equally at home in both sweet and savory recipes. Opt for part-skim over whole-milk ricotta, and, again, compare sodium levels if you’re looking at different store brands.
Cottage cheese, 1 percent milkfat
Nutrition info: 81 calories per ½-cup serving, 1 g fat, 0.7 g saturated fat, 3 g carbs, 14 g protein, 459 mg sodium
Although this isn’t the kind of cheese you’ll usually find on top of pizza or mixed in with macaroni, it’s still a cheese, and it’s a good one to keep in your fridge. Why? “Cottage cheese counts as a protein,” says Giancoli. And to really max out the health benefits of it, choose low-fat versions (1 or 2 percent milkfat) over whole milk, and compare labels to find a brand that’s lower in sodium. Need some inspiration on how to use it? Here are 12 ways to use cottage cheese that will rock your world.