Can cheese be part of a healthy diet?

Can cheese be part of a healthy diet?

Is cheese bad for you or can it be part of a balanced diet? Corey Tolbert, RD, LD, a licensed and registered dietitian at Cancer Wellness at Piedmont, shares why cheese gets a bad rap and how to incorporate it into your diet in a healthy way.

Is cheese bad for you?

Cheese is creamy, salty, satisfying and pairs well with many dishes, but it does have some potential drawbacks. Tolbert says cheese gets a bad reputation because it tends to be high in calories, saturated fat and sodium.

Cheese is a calorie-dense food, she explains, and typically contains 60 to 90% fat and 75 to 120 calories per ounce.

Too much sodium, fat and calories can increase your weight and blood pressure, which could lead to cardiovascular issues, Tolbert adds.

She also notes that many people have an intolerance to cheese and other dairy products because they have trouble digesting lactose.

Health benefits of cheese

Tolbert says cheese does have some nutrition benefits. It’s high in protein and calcium and contains vitamin B12. It can also be helpful for people undergoing cancer treatment because it offers a high number of calories for a relatively small serving.

“A lot of times, people undergoing cancer treatment are not able to eat much,” she says. “I encourage them to put cheese on their baked potatoes and scrambled eggs, for example, so they are getting enough calories.”

How much cheese is OK to eat?

Tolbert recommends limiting yourself to no more than one serving of cheese per day. A serving of cheese – 1.5 ounces or less – equates to:

  • A golf ball-sized serving of parmesan or shredded cheese

  • 1.5 thin sandwich slices of cheese

  • 4 dice-sized cubes of cheese

  • A stick of string cheese

The healthiest cheeses

It’s possible to enjoy cheese without compromising your health. Try these tips:

Go for soft cheeses. Some cheeses are better for you than others, Tolbert says. Soft cheeses, like goat, feta and mozzarella, tend to be flavorful and lower in calories than hard cheeses, so you’ll be satisfied with a smaller serving.

Choose full-fat cheese. “I recommend choosing regular, not low-fat, cheese,” she says. “When food companies make something light, they’ll often add more sodium, sugar or other ingredients to make it taste better. You’re swapping one negative for another.”

Look for a “clean” ingredients list. Tolbert advises choosing a cheese with the cleanest ingredients as possible – in other words, a short ingredients list. She also suggests choosing a cheese that is free of added hormones and antibiotics.

Go dairy-free. When you want a cheesy, Parmesan-like flavor that is dairy-free, sprinkle nutritional yeast on your dishes, such as popcorn, salad or whole wheat pasta.

Check out more recipes and nutrition tips from Cancer Wellness experts.

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