If your clothes suddenly seem a little more snug than usual, and you're trying to figure out why, cheese might one of the first foods to come to mind as the culprit. High in fat and calories, cheese can cause weight gain if eaten in excess — but in moderation, it's a healthy addition to your diet.
Cheese may be the culprit in weight gain if you're eating too much. Stick to the recommended serving sizes of cheese to avoid weight gain.
Calories in Cheese
Cheese is a calorie-dense food, which means that even small portions of it are high in calories. For example, a single 1-ounce slice of cheddar cheese has 115 calories. Similarly, goat cheese, gouda, Parmesan and Roquefort all contain more than 100 calories per ounce. To put that in perspective, 1 ounce of tomato has only five calories. The USDA recommends limiting your consumption of these hard cheeses to 1 1/2 ounces per day.
However, not all cheeses are as calorie-dense. Feta cheese, for example, has 75 calories per ounce, while ricotta cheese has 42 calories per ounce and cottage cheese has only 28 calories per ounce. Given that these cheeses are lighter, the USDA's recommended daily amount of ricotta is half a cup, and the recommended daily amount of cottage cheese is 2 cups.
Cheese and Weight Gain
The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that adult women consume between 1,600 and 2,400 calories per day and adult men consume between 2,000 and 3,000 calories per day. Eating too much cheese is more likely to contribute to weight gain than, say, fruits and vegetables because eating even a few ounces of it can be a significant amount of calories. However, despite its high fat content, the relationship between cheese and weight gain is more complex than it seems.
A February 2016 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that the consumption of high-fat dairy products was linked to lower risk of weight gain and obesity as compared with low-fat dairy products. As surprising as that sounds, an older study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in December 2006 also found similar results; the daily consumption of more than one serving of whole milk, sour milk and cheese was observed to be inversely proportional to weight gain.
Choosing Cheese in Moderation
When it comes to food, "everything in moderation" is the mantra to live by, and cheese is no exception. Cheese is a good source of calcium and protein and contains other nutrients, such as vitamin A, vitamin B-12, phosphorus and potassium. If you're worried about weight gain, you don't have to give up cheese altogether. Instead, restrict your intake to a conservative amount.
If it's the distinct, nutty flavor of cheese you're after, opt for a strong cheese like blue cheese or Parmesan cheese. Even if you use it sparingly, a small amount will go a long way. Alternatively, if you prefer a milder flavor, skip calorie-dense cheeses and opt for feta cheese, ricotta cheese or cottage cheese, which have fewer calories per ounce and are not as strong in taste.
- USDA National Nutrient Database: "Cheese, Cheddar, Sharp, Sliced"
- USDA National Nutrient Database: "Cheese, Goat, Semisoft Type"
- USDA National Nutrient Database: "Cheese, Gouda"
- USDA National Nutrient Database: "Tomatoes, Red, Ripe, Raw, Year Round Average"
- USDA National Nutrient Database: "Cheese, Parmesan, Hard"
- USDA National Nutrient Database: "Cheese, Roquefort"
- USDA National Nutrient Database: "Cheese, Cottage, Creamed, Large or Small Curd"
- USDA National Nutrient Database: "Cheese, Feta"
- USDA National Nutrient Database: "Cheese, Ricotta, Whole Milk"
- USDA: "Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020"
- The US Library of Medicine: "Dairy Consumption in Association With Weight Change and Risk of Becoming Overweight or Obese in Middle-Aged and Older Women: A Prospective Cohort Study"
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: "Association Between Dairy Food Consumption and Weight Change Over 9 y in 19,352 Perimenopausal Women"
- USDA: "All About the Dairy Group"