Cheese is hardly considered to be the epitome of healthy food, but like other indulgent dishes, it can have a place in your diet if you consume it in moderation and make smart choices. The healthiest cheese choice depends on if you're looking for an option low in fat, sodium or calories; however, "Real Simple" magazine recommends soft cheeses over hard cheese for their slightly lower fat and calorie content.
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Full-Fat, Low-Fat or Fat-Free?
It seems smart to choose low-fat or fat-free cheese to save on fat grams. Nutrition consultant Mike Roussell says to think twice before going for the low-fat option. If your goal is to eat as much real food as possible -- meaning, foods closer to nature with a shorter ingredient list -- choose full-fat cheese. Additionally, low-fat cheese tends to be higher in sodium, Roussell says. He recommends using a small amount of full-fat cheese to satisfy your craving while cutting back on other forms of saturated fat.
Different forms of hard cheese contain a different nutritional makeup, meaning that the healthiest choice for one person might not be the best option for another. For example, those who are looking to boost their calcium or protein consumption, Swiss cheese might be just the ticket, as one slice contains 8 grams of protein and has a healthy dose of calcium and vitamin B-12. At just 106 calories per slice, it's also lower in calories than many other cheeses. A lower-sodium option is Gruyere. Its production regulations say that salt can only be added to the surface, making it lower in sodium, with just 94 milligrams per ounce, than other cheeses.
Soft ricotta cheese is made from whey -- not whole milk -- making it naturally lower in fat. One ounce has just over three grams of fat, according to the USDA National Nutrient Database. You can use it in place of cream cheese on a bagel or -- more traditionally -- as a filling for pasta or dessert dishes. Goat cheese, also known as chevre, is also lower in fat than many hard cheeses, ringing in with just over 6 grams of fat per ounce
Your cheese won't be healthy if it gives you food poisoning. Luckily, you can keep it safe by following proper food-handling procedures. Keep cheese in the refrigerator in its original wrap; after opening, rewrap it in foil, moisture-proof plastic or in an air-tight container. Mold on hard cheeses is considered safe if you trim it off, along with a half-inch margin, but you should throw away all soft cheeses with visible mold.