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What is the healthiest cheese? The No. 1 pick, according to a dietitian

Cheese is irresistible, but is it OK to eat every day and which variety is the healthiest?
/ Source: TODAY

Cheese can be healthy in moderation, but Americans love it in big amounts: We eat 42 pounds of cheese per person per year — an all-time high, according to the most recent government figures and the International Dairy Foods Association.

Sliced, shredded, melted, crumbled or baked, it’s irresistible on its own, added to a sandwich or part of a satisfying meal like pizza or lasagna. It can even be eaten for dessert.

Cheese has a rich culinary history, with humans making it for more than 4,000 years, the International Dairy Foods Association notes. There are now 2,000 varieties, so which is the healthiest cheese?

Is cheese unhealthy or healthy?

It’s complicated, has previously reported.

Early studies supported a link between high saturated fat intake from dairy and a higher risk of heart disease. But full-fat dairy may not be as unhealthy as once thought, according to more recent research.

A 2023 review of studies called cheese “nutrient-dense” and found it has “neutral to moderate benefits for human health.”

“There is absolutely a place for cheese in the diet,” says registered dietitian Natalie Rizzo, nutrition editor for TODAY. “The main deterrent for eating cheese is that it has saturated fat, but it also has other beneficial nutrients, like protein and calcium.”

For example, a 1-ounce slice of cheddar cheese has 5 grams of saturated fat, which is a little more than a third of the amount you should have in a day, she notes. And cheese is salty, so it’s not great for people with high blood pressure, she adds.

But that same slice has almost 7 grams of protein, a nutrient that helps with satiety and muscle growth; and it provides 14% of the daily value of calcium, which keeps bones healthy and strong, Rizzo explains.

Plus, cheese comes from milk, which has other nutrients, like vitamin A and B vitamins, she adds.

Overall, there’s no need to avoid cheese — unless a person has an allergy or another reason to skip it — but it’s best to treat cheese as an add-on to a meal, rather than a main course, Allison Arnett, a lecturer of nutrition sciences at the University of New Haven, tells

“There are other sources of protein and calcium that are not high in saturated fat or sodium,” Arnett says.

“The bottom line is: For those who need to decrease sodium, especially people with high blood pressure, avoiding large portions and eating (it) less frequently is the most beneficial way to enjoy cheese.”

Which cheese is healthiest?

Cottage cheese is probably the healthiest cheese, Rizzo says. “It’s lower in saturated fat and higher in protein than most other cheese,” she explains. Rizzo recommends reaching for the low-fat variety, noting it still tastes good.

A half-cup serving of low-fat (2%) cottage cheese has:

  • 90 calories
  • 12 grams protein
  • 2.5 grams fat
  • 5 grams carbohydrates
  • 125 milligrams of calcium (10% of the daily value)

Cottage cheese is a less salty option than other varieties, and you can buy even lower sodium versions of it, Arnett says.

Top healthiest cheeses

Runners up in the healthiest cheese category are generally soft cheeses like ricotta or mozzarella, which are made from low-fat or skim milk, so they tend to be lower in saturated fat and healthier overall, Rizzo says.

Just be mindful of the sodium content when purchasing these varieties, Arnett adds.

Hard cheeses like Parmesan, cheddar and Swiss are naturally lower in lactose so people with lactose sensitivities might benefit from choosing those products, Arnett says.

But generally, any and all cheese is fine in moderation and the nutrition content varies only slightly among the varieties, Rizzo notes. Even soft cheeses like brie, which might seem more decadent, aren’t any less healthy than other cheese, she notes.

Is low-fat or fat-free cheese healthy?

Most low-fat cheeses don’t taste very good because the fat is removed from the milk before processing, and this removes a lot of the flavor, Rizzo says. Personally, Rizzo says she'd rather skip cheese altogether than eat the low-fat variety.

Oftentimes, fillers are added to accommodate the lack of fat, Arnett points out. And when people try to substitute their favorite cheese for the low-fat option, they often end up eating more of it to make up for the lack of fat “thus negating the swap to begin with,” she says.

Is it OK to eat cheese daily?

If you stick to a 1-ounce serving size of cheese, which amounts to about ¼ cup of shredded cheese, it can have a place in your diet, Rizzo says.

“If somebody is in good health and wants to have a small portion of cheese every day, they can do so,” Arnett adds.

Note that some American cheese — the super melty, yellow sliced processed variety — is made from mostly water, so it has fewer nutrients than other cheeses, Rizzo points out.