Great cheeses that won’t ruin your diet
Listen to your average healthy eating advice and it would seem cheese is right up there with deep-fried onion rings. Even when you take a look at the nutritional information, it’s hard to know whether the benefits outweigh the drawbacks. On the one hand, cheese contains good amounts of zinc, vitamin A, vitamin B12, and phosphorus. On the other hand, it’s often high in fat and salt. Cheese may not be a “health food,” but when you choose the right type and eat it in moderation, cheese can easily fit into a healthy diet. Here are some guidelines for finding a healthy cheese and a few cheeses to try.
While typical natural cheeses like cheddar are about 30% to 40%, cheese from skim or partly skim milk have fat contents between 7% to 15%. Harder cheeses usually contain more fat than soft cheeses, but you can cut back on your fat intake by choosing brands labelled “low fat” or “fat free.” For soft cheeses, look for cheeses made from skim or part-skim milk. Natural cheese may have a higher fat content than processed ones, but even so, you’re better off with natural cheeses, which contain more nutrients and fewer additives than processed cheeses.
The salt content of cheese tends to be high, but some like Swiss (Emmental) and Parmigiano Reggiano are naturally lower in sodium. Also, soft cheeses are usually lower in salt. In general, try to avoid cheeses with more than 400 mg of sodium per serving.
If the lactose in milk products doesn’t sit well with you, there still may be cheeses you can eat. Cheese from sheep’s or goat’s milk, such as feta, is naturally lower in lactose. Choosing aged cheeses, like cheddar, gruyere, Parmigiano Reggiano is another option. As cheese ages, the lactose transforms into lactic acid, which doesn’t adversely affect those who are lactose intolerant. Another benefit of aged cheese is that it’s often higher in calcium.
Here are some of the healthiest cheeses
Looking for low-fat, low-sodium cheese will help you find the healthier cheeses out there, but there’s more to it than that. Some specific cheeses, for a variety of reasons, tend to be better for your health.
Piquant yet slightly fruity, this granular moist cheese is one of the healthiest cheeses you can eat. It’s made from half naturally skim milk, so it’s lower in fat than many natural cheeses. The best Parmigiano Reggiano is aged for at least 3 years, giving it another advantage. Because this cheese grates easily, it makes the perfect topping for soups, salads, and pasta dishes.
Italian ricotta is naturally low in fat (around 5% fat) because it’s made from whey, rather than whole milk. Good ricotta should be firm and moist, with a slightly grainy texture. Its delicately sweet flavour and light texture are what make it the classic filling for rich Italian desserts like cheesecake. Ricotta also makes a great spread for bagels or crackers or as a topping for fresh fruit.
There’s a good reason cottage cheese is so popular with dieters and body builders. Cottage cheese is low fat, yet contains a large amount of casein protein for muscle-building. With its lightly sweet flavour, cottage cheese is good paired with fruits or topped with jam. If you really want to cut back the fat, use cottage cheese to replace ricotta cheese. Cottage cheese tends to be rather high in sodium, but there are reduced sodium varieties available, too.
FetaGreece’s most famous cheese is also one of the healthier ones around. Soft, pure white feta is made from ewe’s and goat’s milk, so it’s unlikely to bother the lactose-sensitive. Because it crumbles easily, it works well in salads, wraps, and pitas. If you’ve tried feta, but found it to be unpleasantly salty, it’s probably because you got a poor quality cheese. In good feta, the salt should never overwhelm the mild pungency of the cheese itself. If you do end up with salty feta, soak it in cold water or milk for a few minutes to cut down the salt content.
This creamy Dutch cheese made from cow’s milk is known by its yellow colour and sweet, nutty flavor. While whole milk gouda is fairly high in fat, some Goudas are made from partly skim milk, reducing the fat content. Standard Gouda is also lower in fat than cream Gouda and Goudas are aged for over a year have a lower lactose content. This cheese works well for snacks and in sandwiches and aged Gouda can be grated over pasta and potato dishes.
You don’t have to give up cheese just because you’re trying to eat healthier. While you should still use moderation with even healthy cheeses, there are several types of cheese that will add flavour and texture to your dishes without loading them up on fat and salt.
Cheeses are here divided into three classes by fat content.
Low-fat cheeses – Cottage cheese, Quark, Reduced fat cottage cheese, Reduced fat cheese spread, Reduced fat Edam, Ricotta.
Medium-fat cheeses – Brie, Camembert, Cheese spread, Danish blue, Edam, Emmental, Feta, Goats milk soft cheese, Medium fat soft cheese, Mozzarella, processed cheese, Reduced fat Cheddar, Reduced fat Cheshire, Smoked processed cheese, Soya cheese.
High-fat cheeses – Caerphilly, Cheddar, Cheshire, Cream cheese, Derby, Double Gloucester, Full fat soft cheese, Gouda, Gruyere, Lancashire, Leicester, Lymeswold, Mascarpone, Red Windsor, Roquefort, Stilton, Vegetarian cheese, Wensleydale.
Medium and high fat cheeses should be eaten only in moderation.