All cheese contains some level of saturated fat unless it is one of the fat-free varieties which, let’s face it, tend to taste like eating plastic or rubber. There is a bewildering amount of information about the nutritional value of cheese or the healthiest cheeses to eat and much of the information available seems to be completely contradictory.
No stretch of the imagination would ever list cheese as a health food but careful selection can mean that cheese is possible as part of a healthy diet if eaten in moderation.
Nutritional Value of Cheese and Other Health Benefits
Cheese when considered from a nutritional point of view has more or less the benefits of concentrated milk. It therefore contains calcium, protein, phosphorus, Vitamin A, Vitamin B and many minerals such as zinc.
Nutritionally, goat’s milk has many advantages over cow’s milk and therefore cheeses made with goat’s milk are often a healthier option. The composition of goat’s milk makes it quite similar to mother’s milk and the make-up of the fat globules present are far more easily digested than the fat present in cow’s milk and non-mucous forming.
Interestingly, a scientific study done on people who had lived beyond the age of 100 showed one common denominator – all of the centenarians were consumers of goat’s milk.
All milk contains tryptophan, one of the essential amino acids that can’t be manufactured by the body. The body produces serotonin from tryptophan – one of the chemical neurotransmitters responsible for well being, positive mood enhancement and healthy sleep.
Lactose, the carbohydrate found in milk, is lower in ripened cheese and aged cheeses have virtually no lactose content which is useful information for those who have lactose sensitivity. Some cheeses that age well are, Cheddar, Manchego, and Parmesan varieties like Parmigiano-Reggiano.
There are some claims that cheese can help to prevent tooth decay. The basis for these claims is that the calcium and protein present in cheese act as enamel protectors while the increased saliva flow that cheese stimulates works as a flush for removing excess sugars and acids which contribute to tooth decay.
The Healthiest Cheese List
1.) Cottage cheese: Cottage cheese, an unpressed cheese curd has one of the lowest saturated fat content of all cheeses. Look for varieties with lower salt content as some have high sodium levels.
2.) Quark: Quark is another form of unpressed cheese curd that generally has a lower salt and fat content than normal cottage cheese and is now widely available in supermarkets. Not only is this cheese low on fat, it is also a good source of protein making it very healthy for consumption. 100 grams of quark cheese contains only about 0.2 grams of total fat, 0.1 gram of saturated fat and 14 grams of protein. (1).
3.) Ricotta: Ricotta is generally considered to be one of the healthiest cheeses as it has a low fat content. 100 grams of Ricotta cheese contains around 5 grams of saturated fat.
4.) Parmegiano Reggiano: Parmegiano Reggiano is a high quality Parmesan cheese that has had to pass stringent tests to qualify it for the official Consorzio mark. It has a lower fat and lactose content than many cheeses due to the processes used in its production.
5.) Feta cheese: Feta cheese is made from either goat’s milk or sheep milk and is therefore one of the healthier alternatives.
6.) Halloumi: Halloumi is another goat’s or sheep milk cheese that originated in Cyprus. It has low lactose content. Do check labels as some modern manufacturers make this cheese with cow’s milk therefore regulating it out of the healthiest category. It is to be noted though that every 100g of commercially available halloumi contains approximately 24 grams of fat and 17 grams of saturated fat (2). This definitely makes it a slightly fat heavy cheese. Similarly, this cheese also has a higher sodium content which is approximately 3 grams of sodium in every 100 grams.
Many of the well known cheeses such as Brie and Mozzarella come in low fat or even fat-free varieties although many consumers complain that these really have little of the taste and texture of their full-fat varieties.
List of Cheese that are Bad for Health
As a general rule, hard cheeses have a higher fat content than soft cheeses.
- Cream cheese is the worst culprit for high fat content.
- Cheddar cheese is also one of the biggest culprits where fat content is concerned with some cheddars containing as much as 40% saturated fat. On the flip side, aged cheddar cheeses are very low in lactose content and hence a good alternative for people who are lactose intolerant.
- Stilton, Mascarpone, Wensleydale, Gouda and Caerphilly are also high in the list of cheeses to be avoided if fat content and calories are a concern.
Table Outlining the Fat Content of Different Cheeses
The following table roughly outlines the fat, protein and salt content of popular cheese varieties per 100 grams; listed in ascending order of total fat content present. Please note that these are very approximate values.
|Name||Total Fat||Saturated Fat||Protein||Salts|
|Reduced Fat Cottage Cheese||1.9||1.2||13.7||0.9|
|Regular Cottage Cheese||4.4||2.7||12||0.3|
One last fact for pondering – the general thought is that a diet which contains high saturated fat content is a significant factor in increased risk of heart disease. France and Greece are the two largest cheese consuming nations in the world, with the average citizen eating 400g of cheese every week. The statistics for incidence of heart disease in France and Greece however are comparatively low. Experts, although having theories, can’t explain this apparent paradox (popularly known as the French paradox).
The general advice from dietitians and health professionals is that cheese doesn’t have to be avoided completely if it is used sensibly, in moderation and some consideration is taken in selecting the healthiest cheese options.