Cheese: Is It Healthy?

Does this dairy delight have a place in your healthy eating plan? Although cheese has gotten bad press for being high in artery-clogging fat, choosing the right ones can provide important nutrients to your diet.
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Does this dairy delight have a place in your healthy eating plan? Although cheeses have gotten bad press for being high in artery-clogging fat, the right ones can provide important nutrients to your diet.

Yes?

Eating cheese can help you meet the 3 recommended daily servings from the dairy group. A 1-ounce slice of cheddar has 113 calories, 6 grams of saturated fat, 7 grams of protein and 174 milligrams of sodium. It also contains 20% of the recommended daily dose of calcium and 14% of the recommended daily dose of phosphorus, plus lesser amounts of selenium and zinc.

Lower fat varieties are available in many markets. The same 1-ounce slice of low-fat cheddar has 48 calories, 1 gram of saturated fat and about the same amount of sodium and protein. Low-sodium varieties are also available for many cheeses too.

There are numerous fat-free cheeses available but they're made with fillers and stabilizers and they don't cook well in dishes. Although they may be much lower in calories, there's just no comparing them to the real deal.

Hard cheeses like Parmesan are often very flavorful and a little goes a long way. (Harder cheeses are also lower in lactose, which can be helpful to those who have trouble tolerating lactose.) Other super-flavorful cheeses are Gorgonzola and sharp cheddar--all you need is a small amount to punch up your dish.

No?

Many varieties of regular cheese are brimming with saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium. Eating several ounces in one sitting on a regular basis can contribute to clogged arteries.

Raw (or unpasteurized) varieties can be tainted with the bacteria listeria monocytogenes, which can lead to illness especially in those with compromised immune systems. Pregnant women need to especially be careful to avoid unpasteurized cheese.

The Verdict: Choose flavorful cheeses to add to your dishes but keep portion in check. Aim for 1 ounce of cheese max per person.

Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian and consultant who specializes in food safety and culinary nutrition. See Toby's full bio »

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