Many of us love cheese. And although it's often a main ingredient in unhealthy dishes (i.e. fast food pizza, cheeseburgers, nachos), when eaten in moderation and paired with healthy foods, cheese can play a beneficial role in your diet.
Despite being high in saturated fat, calories and sodium, cheese is a great source of nutrients, including calcium, phosphorous and B vitamins. Eating dairy products can also contribute to fighting certain chronic diseases such as osteoporosis. Food manufacturers offer many cheeses in low-fat varieties that are made with low fat milk and some also come in a fat-free form as well.
However, in many cases, the fat that is taken out is replaced with fillers and other preservatives, many times sacrificing texture and taste. Your best bet, from a flavor and health perspective, is to enjoy small amounts of full-fat cheese. Just keep in mind that one serving size of cheese is generally one ounce, or the equivalent size of two dice.
Below are some cheeses that are good options and should be considered as staples on your grocery list:
Swiss. If you are watching your salt intake, Swiss cheese is a good option. With only 55 mg of sodium per ounce, Swiss cheese has far less salt than many other cheeses. It is high in protein and calcium and is a great way to add nutritious flavor to an otherwise boring sandwich. One slice has approximately 100 calories and 8 grams of fat.
Feta. Often associated with Greek food, traditional Greek feta is made from sheep or goat's milk. Domestic feta is made from cow’s milk. Although both kinds are high in sodium (one ounce has 325 mg), at approximately 80 calories per ounce, feta is lower in calories than many other cheeses. Feta also provides 4 grams of protein per serving.
Mozzarella. Mozzarella cheese can be made from either cow’s milk or from water buffalo milk (this would be labeled buffalo mozzarella). Remember finding mozzarella sticks in your lunch as a child? No reason to give those up just because you are an adult now. Mozzarella sticks are an easy snack that will help to increase your daily calcium intake and satisfy your hunger between meals. This is one cheese where choosing the low-fat version is a good option. One low-fat mozzarella stick has only 80 calories and provides 7 grams of protein and 222 mg of calcium.
Parmesan. One ounce of Parmesan cheese has about 340 mg of calcium which is about 33 percent more than Swiss or mozzarella. However, Parmesan cheese is extremely high in sodium so it is not a good choice if you are on a low sodium diet. If you are not on a restricted diet, keep Parmesan cheese as a staple in your refrigerator and sprinkle small amounts on salads or veggies to amplify the taste and nutritional value of the dish.
Samantha Linden is a registered dietitian and mother of two. Like many parents, she understands the positive impact a nutritious diet can have on a family’s overall wellness. Linden believes good eating habits begin with educating parents. She also realizes that life is very busy and sometimes the ideal isn’t always possible.
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