Healthy Advice for Cheese Lovers

There's no getting around the fact that the best-tasting cheeses are high in fat, so here's how to get around that.

If you're a cheese lover, chances are you're not madly in love with low-fat cheeses. Sure, there may be a variety or two that passes the taste-test, but a true cheese addict is looking for the rich, creamy flavor and texture associated with full-fat varieties. Here are some tips to help you indulge in a little bit of cheese from time to time without suffering even a twinge of guilt:

  • Exercise portion control. A standard serving of cheese is 1 1/2 ounces. If you stick to a single serving—which is roughly equivalent in size to 4 stacked dice-—eating cheese is probably not a problem for you.
  • Choose sharp, flavorful cheeses. This is especially true in cooking, because you can use less and still have great cheese flavor. The hard part is not overeating such great tasting cheese when you're having it as a snack.
  • Look for reduced-fat, rather than low-fat or fat-free, cheeses. Some brands are much better than others and you have to compare them to see which have the most flavor and the best texture and meltability. Goat cheese naturally contains a gram or two less fat per ounce than most other full-fat cheeses, part-skim mozzerella is a perfectly acceptable substitute for whole-milk mozzarella and a stick of reduced-fat string cheese is a tasty and healthful everyday snack.
  • Cut back on other fats. The problem with the fat in cheese is that it's mostly saturated fat, the type of fat that contributes to clogged arteries, heart disease and possibly a host of other medical problems. If you eat cheese on a regular basis, limit or avoid other saturated fats from meat, butter, animal fat and other full-fat dairy products. Choose lean cuts of meat, such as skinless poultry, and loin, round and leg cuts of beef and pork, and fat-free or lowfat milk and yogurts.
  • Do the math. Your total fat intake should be between 25 and 35 percent of your total calories, and your saturated fat intake should be less than 7 percent of your total daily calories, according to the American Heart Association. On a 2,000 calorie diet, that means about 500 calories from fat and 140 calories from saturated fat.  Since there are 9 calories in every gram of fat, your limit is approximately 55 to 65 grams of fat and 15 or 16 grams of saturated fat each day. Check the Nutrition Facts labels on all foods to compare the amounts of fat they contain and calculate how that fits into your diet.
  • Pair your cheese with pears. Cheese and fruit make for a happy marriage of balanced nutrition and great flavor, and a platter that combines the two makes for a sophisticated and satisfying dessert. Pair Cheddar or Gouda with sliced apples, Swiss cheese with pear, blue cheese with figs, smoked cheese with grapes, feta with watermelon and camembert or brie with strawberries.
  • Get your cheese fix in tasty ways that use less than if you were eating the cheese out of hand. For instance, crumble a little goat or gorgonzola cheese into vinaigrette dressing for salad or sprinkling just a little grated cheese over steamed vegetables, such as Swiss or fontina cheese over asparagus or sharp cheddar or Parmesan over broccoli.
  • Skip the crackers if you're concerned about weight control. Instead, have your cheese with crisp, raw vegetables. If you must have bread or crackers with your cheese, choose high-fiber varieties. (Read and compare the nutrition facts labels on different varieties of crackers, crispbreads and flatbreads. Look for 100% whole-grain crackers and breads.) Fiber helps reduce the amount of fat and cholesterol that is absorbed into your bloodstream and may play a role in other factors that lower the risk of developing heart disease and other diet-related medical problems associated with fat.

Study References:

American Heart Association.  "Know Your Fats." 29 Jan 2010. Web. 28 July 2010

U.S. Food and Drug Administration. "How the Understand and Use the Nutrition Facts Label."  18 June 2009. Web. 28 July 2010

Weight-Control Information Network. "Just Enough for You: About Food Portions" NIH Pub. No. 09-5287 June 2009. Web. 28 July 2010