To cheese or not to cheese – that is the question. The answer depends on what kind of cheese you opt for – play your cards right and you’ll find yourself chowing down on a powerhouse of nutrition. Here are our top 4 picks for healthy cheeses, plus a few you might want to avoid.
Cheese is one of the most popular dairy products, but the nutritional profile differs greatly from variety to variety. While some cheeses are loaded with salt and additives, other cheeses are packed with gut-boosting probiotics and calcium. Some cheeses have been credited with aiding the weight loss process, along with reducing the risk for heart disease and brittle bones. But not all cheeses are made alike – let's take a dive into 4 healthful varieties that will lift your cheese game.
You might be surprised to see this popular Italian cheese on our list, while it usually graces the top of your favourite pizza, it also has a number of impressive health benefits. This cheese has less salt than most other varieties, but the real hero component is its probiotic content. It contains many healthful bacteria, including the powerhouse strains of Lactobacillus casei and Lactobacillus fermentum, which have been found to boost immunity, reduce inflammation and promote gut health. Research showed that consuming these strains every day for just 3 months drastically slashed the participants’ risk and duration of infections. A two-tablespoon serve of this cheese packs around 11% of our daily needs for calcium, making it a well-rounded addition to your diet. Plus, it’s a versatile cheese – add it to pasta dishes, salads, sandwiches and, of course, pizza.
This might be a controversial pick – and we’re not talking about the sodium content here, but the smell! – while many are repelled by the pungent aroma of blue cheese, it actually boasts an impressive nutritional profile. It’s high in calcium, vitamin A, zinc and even the sunshine vitamin. It’s got a good dose of healthy bacteria like bifidobacteria and lactic acid that give our bodies a much-needed health boost. The former is responsible for the following:
- Regulating gut bacteria
- Preventing inflammation
- Reducing the risk for diseases like inflammatory bowel diseases and colorectal cancer
- May reduce the risk for depression
It’s worth suffering through the stench to get a few of those benefits – so, do your best Geronimo Stilton impression and get nibbling on a piece of, well, Stilton.
This soft cheese might bring to mind images of syrupy pancakes or indulgent cheesecakes, but ricotta is actually a nutritional powerhouse – so long as you don’t add the sugar! On its own, this Italian cheese packs 20% of our daily calcium needs in a half-cup serve, along with boasting a hefty dose of protein. The protein is known as whey, and it’s one of the essential amino acids needed for proper bodily function, including the following essentials:
- Supporting muscle growth
- Lowering high blood pressure
- Balancing cholesterol levels
You wouldn’t know it from its creamy, subtly sweet taste, but ricotta may reduce our levels of bad cholesterol – LDL – due to its whey content. While the research is lacking, these findings around whey and its positive effects on cholesterol and blood sugar regulation are promising.
This English cheese is aged for months, often producing that mild to sharp taste for which it’s known. This cheese packs a whopping 15% of our daily calcium needs in just a 28-gram serve. But one of the most impressive benefits of cheddar is its vitamin K2 content, which is essential for bone health. It plays a massive role in reducing our risk for osteoporosis, along with preventing the build-up of calcium deposits in our artery walls and veins. These deposits happen to be one of the major causes of heart attacks – this happens when part of the build-up, also known as plaque, breaks off and results in a blood clot, thereby blocking the blood flow and oxygen that you heart needs. So, vitamin K2 is also your key to reducing your risk for a heart attack – and this nutrient isn’t the easiest to find. While our bodies can produce it, we also need a good dose from our diet to ensure we’re getting those health benefits. So, for your next charcuterie board, whip out some cheddar!
Other hard cheeses like Swiss cheese and Parmesan are also known for their healthful benefits – including a number of impressive probiotics brewing within. Hard cheeses in general make for a great addition to a balanced diet, with some studies finding they may reduce the risks of osteoporosis. These cheeses have been aged for longer periods of time than soft cheeses, giving them a deeper flavour and, in some cases, a richer nutritional profile. Calcium, vitamin A and vitamin K2 are par for the course with hard cheeses, while softer varieties tend to have a lower count of these nutrients. The other benefit of hard cheeses is their lower lactose content, making them easier to digest and a better choice for those looking to reduce their intake.
Picking a cheese to suit your needs
If you’re looking to maximise on calcium content, go for Emmental, Swiss, Parmesan, Gruyere or Gouda cheese. If you’re keeping the salt intake to a minimum, spring for goat cheese, ricotta, Swiss or Emmental cheese. For a lower lactose dose, go for cheddar, Parmesan, Swiss or other hard cheeses. If you’re looking for a gut health boost, Gouda, Edam, mozzarella or cheddar cheese will be your answer. So now you know what cheese to eat, you’re probably wondering which to avoid – here’s what you need to know.
Worst cheeses for your health
Ultra-processed cheeses are at the centre of the unhealthy cheese camp and it all comes down to their added sugars, salt, preservatives and an intense processing process that strips the cheese of beneficial nutrients. We’re talking about cheeses like those American-style cheese singles, spray-can cheese and pre-shredded cheese – next time you’re in the supermarket, take a look at the ingredients list on the back of your shredded cheese pack. You’ll likely notice preservatives that aren’t added to the whole versions of these cheeses. It may be convenient, but it’s not ideal for your health. You’ll also want to avoid sweetened cheeses, for instance some cottage cheese or cream cheese spread may come with a dose of extra sugars.
Note: Go easy on salty cheeses like halloumi and fatty creamy cheeses like brie – while both have extensive health benefits, it’s easy to overdo it. As we always say, everything in moderation.
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