The average American consumes 23 pounds of cheese per year, up from 8 pounds a year in 1970, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Cheese has important nutrients such as calcium, zinc, protein and vitamin A, but it also contains cholesterol and saturated fat, which puts you at risk for heart disease and stroke. If your cholesterol is already high, avoid eating too much cheese or opt for low-fat or fat-free varieties that are now widely available.
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What Is Cholesterol?
You need cholesterol to make vitamin D, hormones, to build cell walls and to metabolize fat. Your liver makes 1,000 milligrams of cholesterol every day, according to Harvard Health Publications, which is enough to meet your daily needs. Cholesterol is also a type of fat found in animal and dairy products. If you eat too much cholesterol, it accumulates in your bloodstream and eventually deposits in your arteries restricting blood flow to your heart. Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the United States, and the higher your cholesterol is, the greater your chance of having a heart attack.
Cholesterol in Cheese
Adults should consume no more than 300 milligrams of cholesterol per day, according to the American Heart Association. If you’re at risk for heart disease, you should aim for less than 200 milligrams a day. One ounce of cheddar contains 30 milligrams of cholesterol, or 10 percent of your daily cholesterol intake. The same amount of pasteurized, processed American or Brie cheese gives you 28 milligrams.
Saturated Fat in Cheese
The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute states that saturated fat does more harm to your cholesterol levels than dietary cholesterol. You should get less than 7 percent of your daily calories from saturated fat. For a 2,000-calorie diet, that equates to 140 calories. One gram of fat is equal to 9 calories, so you can have up to 15 grams of saturated fat daily. A one-ounce serving of cheddar cheese contains 6 grams of saturated fat, or 40 percent of the recommended amount. The same amount of pasteurized American or Brie cheese provides you with 5 grams of saturated fat.
If you can’t avoid the temptation of cheese, opt for healthier alternatives that won’t do as much harm to your cholesterol. Four ounces of low-fat cottage cheese contains 4 milligrams of cholesterol and less than 1 gram of saturated fat. One tablespoon of low-fat cream cheese contains 8 milligrams of cholesterol and 1 milligram of saturated fat. Both come in fat-free varieties, as well. Low-fat mozzarella is another healthier alternative, with 18 milligrams of cholesterol and 3 milligrams of saturated fat, while Brie cheese contains 21 milligrams of cholesterol, but still has 5 grams of saturated fat.