The Best Cheeses for You

If you think cheese is forbidden as part of a healthy diet, you might be surprised by some of the smart choices out there. Cheese features prominently in a number of world cuisines, and there's no reason you can't enjoy it regularly. Besides being tasty and versatile, cheese provides calcium and protein as well as phosphorus, vitamin A, and zinc. Not sure which kind of cheese is best for you? It all depends on your particular dietary goals.

If You Need to Watch Your Dietary Fat...

Your best bet is to choose reduced-fat or "lite" varieties of popular cheeses, such as Muenster, Swiss, cheddar, and mozzarella. These are readily available in grocery stores and even some delis and sandwich shops. While an ounce of regular Swiss or Monterey jack cheeses contains eight grams of fat and an ounce of regular cheddar has nine grams, an ounce of part-skim mozzarella sets you back just four and a half fat grams. Want to go even lower? Low-fat cottage cheese generally has about two grams of fat per serving, according to Alison Massey, MS, RD, a registered dietitian and the director of the Center for Endocrinology at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore.

If You Need to Be Careful About Your Sodium Intake...

You should read nutrition labels carefully. Swiss cheese clocks in at a scant 54 milligrams of sodium per ounce, and Monterey jack has a still-respectable 150 milligrams per ounce. Part-skim ricotta has 155 milligrams of sodium per ounce, which isn't bad, although its high fat content may be a problem for some. Compare this with processed American cheese, which contains 263 milligrams of sodium per ounce, and blue cheese, which has a whopping 395 milligrams of sodium per ounce. If you really crave a particular type of cheese, seek out reduced-sodium varieties of your normally salty favorite.

If You and Lactose Aren't Friends...

You can still indulge—carefully. Some cheeses are nearly lactose free, such as Swiss, which contains just .02 grams of lactose per ounce, while cheddar has only .07 grams of lactose per ounce. What to watch out for? Soft cheeses such as ricotta and cottage cheese, which are more likely to cause you gastrointestinal distress due to a higher lactose content.

For All Cheese Lovers

No matter which cheese you choose, Massey recommends keeping portion sizes in check to avoid weight gain. And don't depend on cheese alone to meet your calcium needs. “I typically recommend that individuals consider a variety of calcium-rich sources versus just focusing on one source to incorporate into the diet,” she says. In other words, go for leafy greens, legumes, and fortified cereals as well as a small serving of cheese to keep things in balance.

Alison Massey, RD, CDE, LDN, MS, reviewed this story. 


Alison Massey, RD, CDE, LDN, MS. E-mail conversation with source, July 16, 2014.

"What's Your Type?" National Dairy Council. Accessed July 13, 2014.