Cheese is a good source of calcium and protein, but it can also be high in saturated fats and sodium. Should we be eating more cheese or less?
Cheese has grown in popularity in the United States (U.S.) in the last 50 years. Statistics show that consumption tripled from 1970 to 2009.
The range of cheeses available and the number of specialist cheese makers in the U.S. has also grown in recent years.
Some people avoid dairy cheese due to a milk allergy or lactose intolerance, because they are on a weight-loss diet, or as part of a vegan diet.
Cheese offers a number of health benefits, some of which are surprising. Whether or not it is a healthful choice depends on the individual and the type and amount of cheese consumed.
Fast facts on cheese:
- There are thousands of types of cheese. “Cheese-flavored” food is not considered one of them.
- Many cheeses are high in sodium and fat, but the benefits may outweigh the disadvantages.
- Natural, low-fat, low-sodium cheese can make a healthful addition to most diets.
- Anyone with a lactose allergy should not eat any type of cheese, but some types may be suitable for those with a lactose intolerance.
Cheese is a standard accompaniment to popular foods like burgers, pizza, Mexican dishes, salad, and sandwiches.
Alone, it can be a snack or an appetizer. It can be added to sauces, soups, pastries, and many other dishes.
There are thousands of varieties of cheese, ranging from mild to mature in flavor, and low- to high-fat in composition. It can be made from the milk of cows, sheep, goats, and other animals.
Whole-milk cheese contains between 6 and 10 grams (g) of fat per 1-ounce (28 g), serving. Of this, 4 g to 6 g is saturated fat.
Low-fat or reduced-fat cheese is made with 2 percent milk. Non-fat cheese is made with 0 percent or skim milk.
Fresh cheeses are cheeses that have not been aged, or matured. They usually have a higher moisture content, softer texture, and milder taste than aged cheeses. Examples incude ricotta, cream cheese, cottage cheese, and mascarpone.
Aged or mature cheeses are firmer in texture and tend to be aged for 6 months or longer. The longer the aging process, the more concentrated or sharp the flavor. Cheddar, Swiss, Parmesan, and Gruyère are examples of aged cheeses.
Processed cheese, such as cheese spread, American cheese, “cheese food” and “cheese flavored” products cannot be categorized as cheese, and the label must reflect this. These are shelf-stable products containing added ingredients such as flavor enhancers and emulsifiers.
Non-dairy cheeses, such as soy cheese and daiya, are suitable for people who do not consume dairy products, but they are highly processed.
Cheese is a good source of calcium, a key nutrient for healthy bones and teeth, blood clotting, wound healing, and maintaining normal blood pressure.
Men and women aged from 19 to 50 years should consume 1,000 mg of calcium a day. One ounce of cheddar cheese provides 20 percent of this daily requirement.
However, cheese can also be high in calories, sodium, and saturated fat. The breakdown of macronutrients in any cheese can vary widely, depending on the type.
One ounce (28 g) one brand of cheddar cream cheese spread contains Trusted Source:
- 80 calories
- 7 g of fat, including 5 g of saturated fatty acids
- 1 g of carbohydrate
- 0 g of protein
- 150 milligrams (mg) of calcium
- 750 international units (IU) of vitamin A
- 15 mg of cholesterol
- 380 mg of sodium
One ounce (28 g) of one brand of cheddar cheese contains Trusted Source:
- 120 calories
- 10 g of fat, including 6 g of saturated fatty acids
- 0 g of carbohydrate
- 7 g of protein
- 200 mg of calcium
- 400 international units (IU) of vitamin A
- 30 mg of cholesterol
- 190 mg of sodium
Cheese-flavored products do not have the same nutritional value and are more likely to be high in sodium.