Is Cheese Bad for You?
When it comes to cheese, people often say they love it so much they can’t live without it — but worry that it could cause heart disease or unwanted weight gain.
The truth is that cheese is what’s known as a whole food. Whole foods are generally good for you, as long as you don’t eat too much of one thing.
In this article, we’ll give you all the information you need to make healthy choices about eating cheese.
Health benefits of cheese
There are many healthy options to choose from when it comes to cheese, and many potential ways it can benefit your health.
It’s a good source of nutrients
Cheese is a great source of calcium, fat, and protein. It also contains high amounts of vitamins A and B12, along with zinc, phosphorus, and riboflavin.
According to U.S. Dairy, the overall nutritional profile of conventional, organic, and grass-fed dairy products is similar.
Grass-fed cheese is made from the milk of 100 percent grass-fed animals. A diet high in grass-fed dairy may provide a healthier balanceTrusted Source of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids than diets that rely on conventional dairy. Omega-3 fats are important for heart and metabolic health.
While grass-fed dairy products cost more than standard versions, some people may choose to purchase them for their higher omega-3 content. More research is needed to understand if this difference in nutrients is large enoughTrusted Source to have significant benefits in an average U.S. diet.
It could protect your teeth from cavities
According to some studies, cheese — and dairy products in general — could work to protect your teeth from cavities. In a Danish study from 2015, children with an above-average dairy intake were more likely to be cavity-free after 3 years than those with a below-average intake.
It’s a source of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA)
High-fat cheeses like blue cheese, Brie, and cheddar contain small amounts of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA). CLA is a healthy fat that may help preventTrusted Source obesity and heart disease, and may reduce inflammation.
Cheddar cheese sourced from 100 percent grass-fed animals was found to contain twice as much CLA as conventional cheddar. But it’s not clear whether switching to grass-fed cheese would have overall nutritional benefits in an average U.S. diet.
It could be good for your heart
According to 2018 researchTrusted Source, fermented dairy products, such as yogurt and cheese, have a positive effect on cardiovascular health. In the same study, full-fat dairy products appeared to provide greater nutrition and have anti-inflammatory properties.
Is a cheese addiction unhealthy?
Knowing the benefits and the risks associated with eating cheese can help you to make more informed choices. Cheese may have undesired effects if it’s contaminated, or if you have certain health conditions or dietary needs.
Soft cheeses and blue-veined cheeses can sometimes become contaminated with listeria, especially if they are made with unpasteurized or “raw” milk. Eating listeria-contaminated foods can cause illness.
Examples of at-risk cheeses include:
- queso fresco
- queso blanco
- queso panela
- blue-veined cheeses
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)Trusted Source recommends avoiding eating soft cheeses unless the label clearly states that the product was made with pasteurized milk. This is especially important for:
- pregnant people
- babies and children
- older adults
- people with immune deficiencies
Health conditions and special diets
Cheese contains many important nutrients. But it is also:
- High in calories. Cheese is a calorie-dense food. Depending on the variety of cheese you eat, you’re getting about 100 calories per ounce.
- High in saturated fat. Cheese in high in fat, including saturated fat. Some experts, though not all, advise limiting your intake of saturated fat.
- High in salt. It’s also usually loaded with sodium, which can be an issue for people with high blood pressure.
- Low in fiber. Cheese contains no fiber, and eating a diet containing very high amounts of dairy may causeTrusted Source constipation.
Some people may limit or avoid cheese due one or more of these factors. If you aren’t sure whether cheese is appropriate for your diet, a registered dietitian can help.
Allergies and intolerances
Some people avoid cheese due to conditions such as lactose intolerance or a milk allergy.
Cheese contains lactose, a sugar that can’t be digested by lactose intolerant people because their bodies lack the enzyme that breaks it down. In these cases, eating lactose can lead to digestive problems including gas, bloating, and diarrhea.
Fortunately, many firm, aged cheeses are low in lactose. Examples include Parmesan, Swiss, and cheddar. People with lactose intolerance may be able to tolerate these cheeses in small amounts.
Some people can use lactase pills or drops to prevent symptoms, but it’s best to talk with a doctor before trying it. If you decide to try lactase supplements, a pharmacist or registered dietitian can help you get started.
People who are allergic to milk are unable to eat cheese or other foods containing dairy. A milk allergy means that your body has an immune reaction to one or more proteins in milk, such as casein. Casein is one of the main proteins found in milk, and it’s also an ingredient in some soy-based cheeses.
Milk allergy symptoms can appear early in life, before age 1Trusted Source. While symptoms vary, it can be a life-threatening condition for some people.
Types of cheese
There are thousands of different varieties of cheeses made around the world. Many cheeses made in the United States use cow’s milk, but cheese can also be made from the milk of goats, sheep, and other animals.
- Whole milk. Whole milk cheeses are made from regular, unskimmed milk. They can be high in saturated fat, so people with cardiovascular disease or high cholesterol may choose to limit their intake.
- Low-fat and reduced-fat. In the United States, cheeses labelled “low-fat” must contain 3 grams of fatTrusted Source or less per serving. A “reduced-fat” cheese has at least 25 percent less fat than the regular version of the cheese.
- Aged. Aged cheeses include cheddar, Parmesan, and Swiss. They are firm in texture, and some can be high in salt. Aged cheeses are stored before they are ready to sell, so they have time to mature. The aging process tends to create stronger flavors.
- Fresh. Fresh cheeses such as ricotta and cottage cheese are generally high in moisture and soft in texture. They’re ready to be eaten quickly, without needing time to age, so they are known as “fresh” cheeses.
“Cheeses” that aren’t really cheese
You might be surprised to learn that some foods that we commonly refer to as cheese, are not actually cheese.
- Processed. Processed cheese products like American cheese are made by mixing a cheese with other cheeses or dairy products. Other ingredients may be added in small amounts to enhance flavor, texture, or storage time. While they are made with cheese, they are actually called “pasteurized process cheese food.” Processed options tend to be higher in sodium than other cheeses.
- Non-dairy. Non-dairy cheeses are made from plant-based ingredients, like nuts, soy, and coconut. A 2021 Spanish studyTrusted Source of store-bought vegan cheeses recommended opting for cashew-based and tofu-based products. Coconut-based cheeses, although popular, are highly processed and much less nutritious.
Brie (1 ounce, or 28 grams)
- Calories: 95
- Carbs: 0.1 grams
- Fat: 7.9 grams
- Protein: 6 grams
- Calcium: 4% of the DV
- Sodium: 8% of the DV
Cheddar (1 ounce, or 28 grams)
- Calories: 114
- Carbs: 1 gram
- Fat: 9.4 grams
- Protein: 6.4 grams
- Calcium: 15% of the DV
- Sodium: 8% of the DV
Feta (1 ounce, or 28 grams)
- Calories: 75
- Carbs: 1.1 grams
- Fat: 6.1 grams
- Protein: 4 grams
- Calcium: 11% of the DV
- Sodium: 14% of the DV
Gouda (1 ounce, or 28 grams)
- Calories: 101
- Carbs: 0.6 grams
- Fat: 7.8 grams
- Protein: 7.1 grams
- Calcium: 15% of the DV
- Sodium: 10% of the DV
Mozzarella (1 ounce, or 28 grams)
- Calories: 85
- Carbs: 0.7 grams
- Fat: 6.3 grams
- Protein: 6.3 grams
- Calcium: 11% of the DV
- Sodium: 6% of the DV
Swiss (1 ounce, or 28 grams)
- Calories: 111
- Carbs: 0.4 grams
- Fat: 8.8 grams
- Protein: 7.7 grams
- Calcium: 19% of the DV
- Sodium: 2% of the DV
American (1 ounce, or 28 grams)
- Calories: 102
- Carbs: 1.3 grams
- Fat: 8.6 grams
- Protein: 5.1 grams
- Calcium: 22% of the DV
- Sodium: 20% of the DV
Non-dairy coconut-based cheddar style slice (0.8 ounces, or 22 grams)
- Calories: 60
- Carbs: 4 grams
- Fat: 5 grams
- Protein: 0 grams
- Calcium: 11% of the DV
- Sodium: 7% of the DV
Note: A 1-ounce (28 gram) serving of cheese is about the size of a 1-inch cube, or 1 slice of American cheese. Nutritional values for the non-dairy option are provided for a slightly smaller, 0.8 ounce sliceTrusted Source. All cheeses above are full-fat versions.
In general, cheese is a healthy and delicious source of many nutrients.
For most people, a balanced diet can include cheese. Occasionally snacking on cheese or having a few crumbles with your salad or sprinkled over vegetables isn’t likely to cause problems, unless you’re lactose intolerant or allergic to milk.
But eating too much of any one food isn’t recommended — no matter how much you might love your Swiss or Brie. And if you’re usually pairing cheese with processed foods like pizza crust, pepperoni, or crackers, you might be cancelling out cheese’s benefits.