What is the healthiest cheese?
Cheese is a delicious food that has been eaten by humans for a long time. It is made by curdling milk with acids or enzymes, causing it to coagulate. The solid parts (proteins and fat) are separated from the liquid whey and are then aged. Softer cheeses are not aged for long, whereas hard cheeses are ripened by bacteria or mold for longer periods.
Since cheese is a dairy product, it has similar nutrients to those found in yogurt and milk, but usually in different amounts.
Cheese is a great source of protein. For example a cup of cottage cheese provides you with 25 g of protein, which is a significant amount. Most of the proteins found in cheese belong to a family called casein.
Cheese also contains several important vitamins and minerals:
Calcium – most dairy products are rich in this mineral. Calcium is essential for bone and tooth health, muscle contraction regulation and normal blood clotting.
Vitamin B12 – also known as cobalamin, vitamin B12 helps to maintain energy levels, boosts mood, is needed for healthy skin & hair, aids in digestion and assists with red blood cell production.
Phosphorus – helps maintain strong bones, balances the body’s pH level, maintains dental health and is important for growth and development.
Selenium – this is a mineral that is not well known by a lot of people. It acts as an antioxidant, helps defend against cancer, boosts immunity, improves blood flow and regulates thyroid function.
Zinc – balances hormones, maintains heart health, supports the liver and assists in nutrient absorption.
Vitamin A – protects the eyes, fights inflammation and supports skin health.
Because of these vitamins and minerals, the moderate consumption of cheese has some health benefits. It promotes bone health and may reduce the risk of osteoporosis. It may also be beneficial for heart health.
The lactose and fat content in cheese varies greatly. Much of the fat is saturated; in the past it was believed that saturated fat was the enemy and a cause for heart disease, but new studies seem to suggest that this might not be the case.
Many cheeses have similar nutritional profiles but vary in taste and texture. The one that you choose to eat comes down to personal preference. Below are some of the healthiest types of cheese that you can eat.
A 1 cup (150 g) serving of feta cheese has 396 calories, 32 g of fat (22 g saturated), 21 g of protein and 6 g of carbohydrate.
It is originally from Greece and is made from sheep and goats milk. This type of milk contains more phosphorus and calcium than cow’s milk. Feta is not aged or cured and is therefore considered a fresh cheese.
Feta cheese contains Lactobacillus plantarum, a bacteria that can help promote gut health and immune function.
Because of its texture and flavour, feta can be enjoyed in lots of different ways. It can be sprinkled over salads, added to omelettes, used as a bread topping and even grilled with olive oil.
A 1 cup (225 g) serving of cottage cheese has 222 calories, 10 g of fat (3.9 g saturated), 25 g of protein and 8 g of carbohydrate.
Cottage cheese is soft and creamy and is also a fresh cheese. It is made from the curds of cow’s milk; the curd sizes can vary and the milk used to prepare it can be no-fat, low-fat or regular fat.
Because of its extremely high protein content, it is popular among bodybuilders and athletes, who like to eat it before going to sleep. Much of the protein is casein, which is absorbed slowly by the body and helps to build muscle mass.
Cottage cheese can be eaten together with fruits like bananas and berries, used to prepare pancake batter, added to smoothies and is a great substitute for sour cream.
A 1 cup (246 g) serving of ricotta cheese has 428 calories, 32 g of fat (20 g saturated), 28 g of protein and 7 g of carbohydrate.
Ricotta is an Italian cheese made from whey instead of whole milk. It has a similar colour & texture to feta and can be molded or crumbled.
It has many of the nutrients that other cheeses have, including calcium, vitamin A, vitamin B12 and phosphorus.
Ricotta is used for stuffing pasta but can also be incorporated into many recipes.
A 1 cup (132 g) serving of mozzarella has 370 calories, 23 g of fat (14 g saturated), 36 g of protein and 4 g of carbohydrate.
It is traditionally made from Italian buffalo milk but other types of milk can also be used. It is a semi-soft cheese that is white in colour.
Mozzarella is well known for being a pizza topping cheese. To reap the benefits that it has to offer, be sure to get fresh mozzarella whenever possible.
A 1 cup (100 g) serving of Parmesan cheese has 431 calories, 29 g of fat (17 g saturated), 38 g of protein and 4 g of carbohydrate.
Traditional Parmesan is also known as Parmigiano-Reggiano and unlike the other cheeses in this list, it is hard and has a straw colour. It is made from unpasteurized cow’s milk and is granular in texture.
Parmesan is usually grated and sprinkled over various hot dishes. When buying it, try avoid the ready-grated kinds because these tend to be less flavoursome.
A word of caution
There is no doubt that cheese is highly nutritious and eating it can be healthy.
With that being said, it is one food that you definitely want to eat in moderation. Most cheeses are high in sodium, the over-consumption of which can negatively affect blood pressure and cause water retention.
Some types of cheese may be suitable for lactose intolerant individuals, due to their low lactose content. However others definitely need to be avoided or they may cause symptoms such as nausea, bloating, gas and abdominal cramps. If you are lactose intolerant, be sure to read nutrition labels before making a purchase.
As always, if you are watching your weight, it is important to eat high calorie foods such as cheese in small amounts.