If you are asking yourself, what is the healthiest cheese, you are likely experiencing an internal conundrum.
You want to eat a healthy diet and know you shouldn’t overdo it on cheese - yet cheese is delicious!
But is cheese healthy? And what is the healthiest cheese? How do they compare against each other?
We’ve devised a nutrient density scoring system to compare foods to each other. In this case, we compared cheese!
As Dr. Neal Barnard, adjunct professor of medicine at George Washington University says, “obesity is following the cheese.”
Indeed, fat-heavy cheese is laden with calories that can lead to obesity if not eaten in moderation.
And in the Blue Zones - areas where there are relatively high rates of active and healthy centenarians - dairy is minimal. Cheese is usually only consumed in very small quantities and often come from sheep (pecorino) or goat (feta) instead of cows.
Determining the ratios and densities of micronutrients like vitamins and minerals and macronutrients like protein and fats is a useful way for determining what’s the healthiest cheese.
The healthiest cheese is both a broader range of nutrients, as well as higher concentrations of those nutrients on a per-calorie basis than other cheeses.
The healthiest cheese to eat also has a moderate macronutrient profile with a healthier fat profile.
Below is a snapshot of our analysis of the healthiest cheeses. See our interactive charts, here.
So what is the healthiest cheese? Cottage cheese!
Cottage cheese is has relatively modest fat profile, low in calorie density and sodium (see below), and is relatively dense in many micronutrients.
So how were the healthiest cheeses ranked?
To compare “apples to apples,” each cheese was given points for each macronutrient and micronutrient it contained. But each nutrient was measured on a _per calorie _basis.
This means, for every calorie of cheese you gleefully consume, you will also consume some amount of nutrients (i.e., saturated fat, calcium, etc.).
So first, each cheese was compared on this _per calorie _basis to allow each cheese to rank against each other.
Then, points were given based on how well this concentration of nutrients on a _per calorie _basis stack up against your daily recommended intake (DRI) allowance for these nutrients.
However, as current research is not in agreement on added benefits to excessive consumption, greater than the DRI was not awarded extra points.
What about macronutrients?
Points were allocated in a similar way. On a _per calorie _basis, when calories from each macronutrient fell outside of DRI values, points were gradually taken away the further from the DRI they became.
Cheese can be a great source of calcium and phosphorus. And a few cheeses have atypically high amounts of other micronutrients.
Take a look through our interactive chart below. Choose a nutrient in the right-hand drop-down box to see each cheese ranked by its micronutrient content!
The healthiest cheeses are low in sodium (a major mineral constituent of salt). Too much sodium in your diet has been linked to an increased risk of hypertension, a leading risk factor for stroke and cardiovascular disease. Nearly half of Americans have hypertension; thus, dietary guidelines recommend obtaining no more than roughly 2300 mg of sodium per day.
See the average sodium intake of Americans.
There are two ways to measure low sodium cheeses.
One is directly by the amount of sodium in a given amount of cheese. Say, 100 grams. By comparing them on this measure, you can compare what are low sodium cheeses by weight.
Another way to compare low sodium cheeses is by sodium concentration. On a per-calorie basis, concentration compares cheeses as if they were equal parts of your diet. In other words, if you swapped an equal amount of calories of one low sodium cheese for another, which would have the lower sodium concentration.
On a per-weight basis, ricotta cheese tops the ranking of low sodium cheeses.
On a per-calorie basis, though, both ricotta cheese and Swiss cheese tie for first.
See a snapshot of our analysis of the sodium content of each cheese below. Or see the interactive charts, here.
Determining what is the healthiest cheese is really asking what cheese has the best fat profile. This is because nearly all cheeses tend be high in fat content.
Fat can get a bad rap in some circles, and fat is praised in others. Really, it is a necessary dietary component that should be consumed in moderation as part of a healthy diet. Not too much, not too little.
US Dietary Guidelines typically recommend somewhere between 20 and 35% of your calories coming from fat. In addition, no more than 10% of your calories should come from saturated fats, due to their link to poor heart health.
Similar to low sodium cheeses, low fat cheeses can be measured by the amount of fat per gram, or the amount of fat per calorie (fat density).
Either way you measure it, cottage cheese tops our list of low fat cheeses.
Other low fat cheeses include ricotta, feta, and mozzarella.
But in addition to fat quantity, the fat _quality _is important, too.
Fat quality refers to the fatty acid profile. On a high level, this includes saturated fatty acids, monounsaturated fatty acids, and polyunsaturated fatty acids.
When exchanging calories from carbohydrates to fats, unsaturated fats like monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats tend to alter cholesterol in a heart-healthy direction (increasing the HDL:LDL ratio).
Saturated fats tend to be more complicated. Overall, they tend to correlate with cohorts with unhealthy heart health profiles compared to those who eat more unsaturated fats (although there is equally poor heart health profiles for those who switch from saturated fats to refined carbohydrates).
But more specifically, the breakdown of fatty acids is important to consider as they each affect cholesterol levels differently.
For example, palmitic acid tends to raise LDL cholesterol more than it does HDL cholesterol (lower the HDL:LDL ratio) and should be reduced in your diet. While Lauric acid raises both too, but HDL by a larger amount (although higher HDL concentrations and their correlation to health is still under debate, too).
Taking the fatty acid profile into account, roquefort cheese, made from sheep’s milk in the south of France, has the best fatty acid profile.
Take a look at a snapshot of our analysis, below. Or explore the interactive charts, here.
Those looking to lose weight are typically recommended to avoid consuming too much cheese.
It is high if calorie-dense fat, thus, easily leading to overconsumption of calories.
Yet, some are worse than others. The best cheese for weight loss would be a low calorie cheese measured by calorie density.
Using an equal weight basis, the healthiest cheese with respect to low calorie density is cottage cheese!
Ricotta, Feta, and Neufchatel also rank relatively lower than the rest in terms of low calorie cheeses.
See the analysis below, or check out the interactive chart, here!
So what is the healthiest cheese?
Cottage cheese is the best cheese for health, determined by its micronutrient density and macronutrient profile, cottage cheese is a low sodium cheese, and cottage cheese is a low calorie cheese, making it the best cheese for weight loss.
When eaten in moderation, it will provide denser nutrition on a per-calorie basis. But it can quickly lead to overconsumption of calories if you aren’t careful.
What is the least healthy cheese?
Goat cheese tends to have a lower micronutrient profile.
Does this mean you should never eat it? Should I eat _any _of these cheeses?
Cheese can be a delicious addition to a meal, and it can find its way into a balanced, healthy diet. But like all things nutrition, just enjoy in moderation!
Where does your favorite cheese fall on the list?
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