American’s love for cheeses has doubled over the past four decades, from 16 pounds to 37 pounds — that’s almost the weight of a 5-year-old kid.
When it comes to cheese, people often say they love it so much they can’t live without it. But they worry that eating it could be unhealthy for them.
So, is cheese bad for you?
Cheese is somewhat a controversial food — some believe cheese is bad because it’s high in sodium and saturated fat, whereas some think otherwise.
So, should you be eating cheese — or none at all?
Let’s explore the scientifically proven pros and cons of cheese and decide whether cheese is healthy for you or not. Plus, you’ll also get a list of the six healthiest cheeses that are good for your health and palate.
What Is Cheese?
Before we talk about whether cheese is good or bad, have you ever wondered what cheese is?
Cheese is a dairy product made from milk and forms by thickening of the milk protein, casein. During production, manufacturers add enzymes to thicken casein, separating it from whey (the liquid form of milk protein).
Most people tend to avoid cheeses, especially bodybuilders and dieters because it’s known to be a high-calorie food that contains a lot of saturated fat.
However, not all cheeses are high in calories. It’s best to know the exact calories in cheeses so you can make a wise decision before buying one.
How many calories are in cheese?
Calories in a slice of cheese differ from type to type. Certain cheeses are high in calories, such as:
- Romano: 110 cal per oz
- Fontina: 110 cal per oz
- Monterey Jack: 106 cal per oz
- Parmesan: 119 cal per oz
- Cheddar: 114 cal per oz
On the flip side, some healthy cheeses are low in calories. For instance:
- Mozzarella: 85 cal per serving
- Feta: 80 cal per serving
- Goat cheese: 75 cal per serving
However, this doesn’t mean the lower the calorie, the healthier it is. Some of the healthiest cheeses are high in calories, but their impressive nutrient profiles outdid the downside of calories.
The Pros and Cons of Eating Cheese
Cheese, like any other food, has its pros and cons, depending on what types of cheese you eat and how you eat it.
It’s useful to know the pros and cons of cheese so you can decide whether cheese supports your health goals or not.
Your health is far more determined by getting in the good stuff (nutrients) than cutting out the bad stuff.— Eric Edmeades, trainer of Mindvalley’s WILDFIT Quest
Is cheese good for you?
Before we get to the list of the healthiest cheeses, here are three reasons why cheese is good for you.
Cheese, like other dairy products, is a good source of calcium.
You might think, “What is the function of calcium in the human body?“
Besides being known for strengthening bones, calcium is essential in muscle contraction (for movement), blood clotting, nerve impulse, regulating heartbeat, and fluid balance within cells.
Different types of cheese have varying amounts of calcium, but in general, harder cheeses tend to be excellent sources of calcium and vitamin A.
Examples of hard cheeses high in calcium are:
- Swiss cheese: 150mg (21% of calcium’s daily value, DV)
- Parmesan: 314.4mg (45% of DV)
- Cheddar: 200mg (28% of DV)
Protein is the building block for all cells in our bodies. It builds and repairs our muscles, cartilage, ligaments, skin, hair, and every other tissue.
It’s also crucial in making enzymes, hormones, and antibodies for our immune system.
The question is: “Does cheese have protein?“ Yes! There’s a lot of protein in cheese.
Some cheeses are particularly high in protein (for each serving):
- Blue cheese: 6.07g
- Swiss cheese: 7.64g
- Mozzarella: 6.73g
3. Vitamin B12
Cheese is a good source of vitamin B12, an animal-specific nutrient obtained from meat, fish, eggs, and dairy products.
You might think, “What is the function of vitamin B12?”
Vitamin B12’s primary role is synthesizing red blood cells, helping our brain and nerve cells develop and function properly, and helping create and regulate DNA.
Cheeses that are high in vitamin B12 are:
- Swiss cheese: 0.9μg (36% vitamin B12 DV)
- Mozzarella: 0.6μg (27% DV)
- Low-fat cottage cheese: 0.5μg (22% DV)
Is it bad to eat cheese every day?
Cheese, on its own, is not an unhealthy food. It is what you eat with cheese that makes cheese get a bad rap.
Restaurants usually pair cheese with pizza, tortilla chips, bread, and crackers, which are processed foods filled with additives and preservatives. And they put a ton of cheeses on it.
The question is: “Is cheese a healthy snack?“ The cheese becomes a healthy snack if you pair it with nutritious, whole foods — like apples or over vegetables and in salads.
It’s okay to eat cheese every day, as long as you eat it in moderation. Research suggests that eating around 40g (1.4oz) of cheese every day could help in reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke.
Is Cheese Bad For You?
Cheese has some nutritional benefits — but like most foods, it’s not without its drawbacks.
Here are four reasons why cheese is bad for you.
1. Saturated Fats
There are three types of fat: trans fat, saturated fat, and unsaturated fat.
The worst fat is trans fat, and the healthiest fat is unsaturated fat. Saturated fat sits somewhere in between.
How does saturated fat affect your health?
It lowers good cholesterol and increases bad cholesterol, leading to heart diseases and stroke. Too much saturated fat can increase your calorie intake, which causes you to gain weight.
The thing is, cheeses contain saturated fat, but not all cheeses contain a high amount of saturated fat.
You can opt for cheeses that are naturally low in saturated fat such as fresh cheeses.
Salt is an everyday food present in almost every meal. It adds depth to flavors, preserves food to last longer, and makes you crave the next potato chip.
Our body needs a small amount of sodium to contract and relax muscles, and maintain the proper balance of water and minerals. But most people in the U.S. consume more sodium than the recommended daily intake (RDI).
Too much sodium can lead to hypertension, heart disease, and stroke. It can also cause your bones to release calcium.
Unfortunately, most cheeses have a lot of salt added to them to enhance their flavor, mainly processed and brined cheeses. For every serving, these cheeses offer:
- Halloumi: 330mg of salt
- Feta: 323mg of salt
- String cheese (processed): 200-300mg of salt
Cheese contains lactose, a type of sugar present in milk.
At birth, infants produce an enzyme called lactase to break down lactose. When we’re between two to five years old, we stop producing lactase.
Some people continue producing lactase after infancy, but more than half of the world’s population cannot digest lactose properly.
Half of the world has an issue with lactose is a clue. If you’re not sensitive to lactose, this means your body defense alarms have been turned off.— Eric Edmeades, trainer of Mindvalley’s WILDFIT Quest
If you’re experiencing any of the symptoms below after consuming dairy products, chances are, you have lactose intolerance.
- Stomach pain and bloating
- Increased gas
Even if you’re not experiencing any of the symptoms above, this doesn’t mean you will not suffer the increased risk of prostate and possibly ovarian cancer, according to a Harvard study on calcium and milk.
Note: Do not mix up lactose intolerance with milk protein allergy. Up to 5% of people are allergic to casein, a milk protein. Symptoms of milk allergy include rash, eczema, asthma, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain, and anaphylaxis (a severe allergic reaction).
4. Unethical production of milk
Cramped pens, imprisoned solitary calves separated from their mother 36 hours after birth, and tons of hormones are injected into mother cows to produce an unnatural amount of milk.
As a result of these environments, cows are developing an infection called mastitis — the inflammation of the breast tissue — and they need to bear with this grueling pain until they die in tiny pens.
Thankfully, more and more people are waking up and turning to dairy alternatives such as vegan cheese and plant-based milk.
What Are the Healthiest Types of Cheese?
So you’re not quite ready to kick your cheese-eating habit just yet. It’s okay — the following six low-fat kinds of cheese will undoubtedly satisfy your cravings and do your body good!
But before we get there, here’s one thing you need to know: depending on your health and activity, you may be on a particular diet that works for you.
Some diets, however, may limit you to eating specific types of cheese and avoid others. If you’re on a low-fat diet, stick to low-fat cheeses such as mozzarella, Swiss cheese, and feta cheese.
If you’re on a low-sodium diet, opt for low-salt cheeses such as hard cheeses.
Mozzarella is a type of soft cheese that has lower salt content and calories than other cheeses.
It also contains probiotics that may boost your immune system.
One ounce (28g) of full-fat mozzarella contains:
- Calories: 85
- Protein: 6g
- Fat: 6g
- Carbs: 1g
- Sodium: 176 mg — 7% of the RDI
- Calcium: 14% of the RDI
2. Blue cheese
Blue cheese is known for its distinctive blue or grey veins and a tangy taste. It’s loaded with calcium, and it may help support your bone health and prevent osteoporosis.
One ounce (28g) of whole-milk blue cheese contains:
- Calories: 100
- Protein: 6g
- Fat: 8g
- Carbs: 1g
- Sodium: 380 mg — 16% of the RDI
- Calcium: 33% of the RDI
Feta is a Greek cheese that’s lower in calories than other cheeses but is higher in salt. It may also contain higher amounts of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a fatty acid linked to weight loss.
One ounce (28g) of full-fat feta cheese provides:
- Calories: 80
- Protein: 6g
- Fat: 5g
- Carbs: 1g
- Sodium: 370 mg — 16% of the RDI
- Calcium: 10% of the RDI
4. Cottage cheese
Cottage cheese is a fresh, clumpy cheese that’s packed with protein. Since cottage cheese is high in protein and low in calories, cottage cheese is an excellent choice if you’re working on healthy recipes for weight loss.
1/2-cup (110g) serving of full-fat cottage cheese contains:
- Calories: 120
- Protein: 12g
- Fat: 7g
- Carbs: 3g
- Sodium: 500 mg — 21% of the RDI
- Calcium: 10% of the RDI
Ricotta is a creamy, white cheese loaded with protein. The high-quality whey found in ricotta may help support our muscle growth and help lower blood pressure.
1/2-cup (124g) serving of whole-milk ricotta contains:
- Calories: 180
- Protein: 12g
- Fat: 12g
- Carbs: 8g
- Sodium: 300 mg — 13% of the RDI
- Calcium: 20% of the RDI
6. Swiss cheese
Swiss cheese has less fat and salt than most other cheeses. If you’re on a low-sodium diet, we recommend replacing other cheeses with Swiss cheese.
One ounce (28g) of Swiss cheese made from whole milk contains:
- Calories: 111
- Protein: 8g
- Fat: 9g
- Carbs: less than 1g
- Sodium: 53 mg — 2% of the RDI
- Calcium: 25% of the RDI
7. Goat cheese
Goat cheese is an excellent option if you’re lactose intolerant. It has less lactose content than cheese made of cow’s milk, and its proteins are also easier to digest.
So is goat cheese good for you? Yes! It is a great source of healthy fat that can help you lose weight and combat bad bacteria.
1 ounce (28g) of goat cheese has:
- Calories: 75
- Protein: 5g
- Fat: 6g
- Carbs: 0g
- Sodium: 130 mg — 6% of the RDI
- Calcium: 4% of the RDI
Is Cheese Healthy?
If you take a moderate approach to your diet, you’re going to have moderate health.— Eric Edmeades, trainer of Mindvalley’s WILDFIT Quest
As the saying goes, you are what you eat. If you eat healthy cheese, you will feel great. If you eat junk, processed cheeses, you will feel bad.
The question is: “Are your food choices reflecting your health goals and values?”
If the cheeses you eat are low in fat, high in nutrients, and consumed within a reasonable limit, that is a good choice of food.
If you indulge in cheeses to satisfy emotional cravings, you need to rethink your relationship with cheese.
Make sure that whatever you put on your plate brings you a step closer to your health goals.