Ahh, cheese, that savory and tangy coagulation that tastes good in pretty much any way imaginable: In cake, on crackers, over nachos.
It even provides the body much-needed calcium, protein and vitamins. However, it has an obvious health blemish: High amounts of saturated fats and calories.
"That means it's all about balance," said registered dietitian nutritionist Sara Haas. "By balance I mean choosing cheeses with great flavor, so that you’ll need less. Balance also means not over-indulging and learning other ways to use cheese instead of sitting down with a hunk of it."
Haas's message of self-control also comes with some recommendations. For the health-conscious, she suggests soft cheeses with strong flavors. Soft cheeses, she said, tend to have less fat than hard cheeses. However, she noted, there isn't a huge difference between hard and soft cheeses. Most all contain healthy doses of fat, protein, saturated fat, calcium and sodium.
But, since you're going to eat it anyway. Here are the types Haas recommends:
The cheese often found in Mediterranean dishes has about 75 calories per ounce, 6 grams of fat and 4 grams of protein.
Another favorite on salads, goat cheese also offers 75 calories per ounce, but packs a bit more protein (5.3 grams) than feta and the same amount of fat.
The stinky, but flavorful blue cheese we just can't stay away from has a bit more calories— about 100 calories per ounce — than feta and goat cheese. It also has more fat, about 8.2 grams per ounce, and more protein, about 6.1 grams.
This one really doesn't need an introduction. It's what makes a really good pizza and is key to Caprese salad. It has the least calories of the bunch, offering 70 calories per ounce, 5 grams of protein and 5 grams of fat.
It's a classic. The basis for any good cracker tray, cheeseburger or dip. It has 110 calories per ounce, 7 grams of protein and 9 grams of fat.
It's for more than just spaghetti. Parmesan is now topping popcorn. It's the highest in calories and protein of the bunch, with 111 calories per ounce, 10 grams of protein and 7.3 grams of fat.
Portion control recommendations
Haas offered some pro tips for getting the most out of your cheese snacking without overdoing it. She suggests pre-portioning cheese so you know when to call it quits. Go with quality cheeses, those processed cheeses are "tempting to overeat," she said.
She also suggests grating cheese over food. That way, you get cheese in every bite without eating as much. People can also buy low-fat cheese, which Haas said usually contain about 25% less fat.
Registered dietitian nutritionist Isabel Maples said cheese has a lot of nutritional benefits people are looking for: It's a simple food, made with basic ingredients, it fills the calcium void many people have, is gluten free and goes well with other foods. She said some natural cheeses even have low levels of lactose for people with sensibilities.
Here are a few of her suggestions:
Low sodium cheeses
Maples suggests people looking for low-sodium options stick to natural cheeses. For sandwiches, she urges people to trade a slice of American for Swiss cheese. Other low-sodium options include Monterey Jack, ricotta, grated parmesan (a quarter-cup of grated equals one ounce).
Of course, read your labels carefully. But Maples said cheddar, colby, mozzarella and Swiss cheeses are low in lactose.
High calcium cheeses
Maples said Swiss, cheddar, ricotta, mozzarella, colby, gouda, queso blanco and Monterey Jack are particularly packed with calcium, which is good for bone health.
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