If there’s a perfect food, it might be cheese. It’s great on its own or with some wine, and it makes everything it’s added to just a little bit better. Not all cheese is created equal, though, and while some will ruin your diet before you’re even aware of just how many calories and how much fat you’re adding to your pasta dinner, others are full of all kinds of good stuff your body needs. Let’s look at which you should stock up on and which you shouldn’t.
Do eat: Muenster
According to the US National Library of Medicine, about 65 percent of people have either lactose intolerance or a sensitivity to dairy products. In some communities, that rises to around 90 percent. If you or your family is part of that group that feels a little funky after drinking milk or eating cheese, grab some Muenster and dig in. This particular cheese has one of the lowest lactose levels of all cheeses, with the range varying between 0 and 1.1 percent. (For some reference, whole milk typically has between 3.7 and 4.8 percent, while cheeses like Colby can have as high as 5.2 percent.) That’s great news for sensitive cheese-lovers, as most people can digest Muenster with no problems whatsoever.
There’s another great thing about Muenster, too: a 1.5 ounce serving has almost the same amount of calcium as an entire cup of milk, making it a tasty way to get your daily dose of calcium — especially if you take some advice from Taste of Home, and whip up some of these cinnamon-apple grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch.
Do eat: Quark
If you’ve never heard of quark, it’s definitely something that should fall into your shopping cart during your next trip to the store. It’s a soft cheese that comes from Germany, and it’s finally made its way into the American market. It has a texture that’s akin to Greek yogurt, and you can pick it up in similar-looking containers. It’s cheese, though, and it’s incredibly high in protein. It’s also comparable to some Greek yogurt varieties as far as calories and sugar go, but depending on your brand of choice, it might actually be lower.
Quark has a benefits in taste, too — it doesn’t have the same tangy, sour taste that turns people off Greek yogurt. There are flavored varieties, but if you pick up a tub of the plain stuff it’s the perfect, inoffensive canvas for adding anything from fresh fruit to savory flavors. There are tons of uses for it — eat it like you would yogurt, put a dollop on your waffles, and replace ricotta with it (and you’ll save a whopping 200 calories per serving). Even better, it’s super-easy to make your own.
Do eat: Gouda
If you were hoping that you’d find Gouda — and that wonderful treat, smoked Gouda — as one of the good cheeses, you’re in luck. Gouda is actually high in the rarely talked about vitamin K. It’s crucial for keeping our blood clotting like it should, and it also helps maintain a healthy bone density. The Harvard School of Public Health estimates that one in four American adults don’t get enough vitamin K, and while it’s in leafy green veggies like kale, spinach, and parsley, it’s no secret it can be tough to get the family to eat that. The vitamin K content of Gouda is much lower than it is in your green veggies, but since adults only need between 90 and 120 micrograms a day and a serving of Gouda contains 76 micrograms, it’s an easy, tasty way to get your vitamin K the whole family can get behind, especially when you make things like this creamy smoked gouda dip from My Sequined Life.
Do eat: Ricotta
Vitamin D is another nutrient that’s vital when it comes to keeping us happy, healthy, and feeling our best. It’s the stuff that helps us fight off infection, keeps our bones strong, our teeth healthy, and it also helps us absorb other nutrients. Ricotta has about five times the vitamin D as any other cheese, so when you’re adding it to that lasagna you’re making on the cold, dark winter afternoon, you’re making a comfort food that really is giving your body a much-needed boost.
Since ricotta is such a flexible cheese, there are a ton of different ways to work it into your weekly meal plan. If you’ve never considered using it to make pancakes, try these vanilla ricotta pancakes from So Sweet Like Sarah
, and it’s sure to be a family favorite for those lazy weekend mornings.
Do eat: Cottage cheese
Be honest: how many times have you picked up a container of cottage cheese with the best of intentions, only to end up tossing it in the trash? If that’s the case, you should double your efforts to work a serving or two of cottage cheese into your diet, because it’s ridiculously good for you. The first big benefit to cottage cheese is its casein proteins, which are the same kind of proteins you find in chicken, fish, and beef. If you’re cutting back on your meat intake, cottage cheese is a great way to replace that lost protein.
There’s other good stuff there, too, like healthy fatty acids that lower the risk of diabetes. There are A and B vitamins, and since it’s also a low-calorie cheese, that makes it a great snack for anyone who’s watching their weight. If you’re still skeptical, start with something fun, like this recipe for a cottage cheese and blackcurrant jam cheesecake from The Worktop. Cottage cheese will never go to waste again!
Do eat: Goat cheese
Goat cheese is another love or hate sort of thing, and if you hate it, you should really give it another chance for many reasons. Goat cheese is low in calories, full of vitamins and nutrients like A, B, iron, calcium, and potassium, and since it has less lactose than many cow’s milk cheeses, it’s easier to digest.
It’s also a great option if you’re trying to make your meals as environmentally mindful as you can. A herd of goats doesn’t just take up less space — and produce less gas — than a herd of cows, but their hardy nature means they can happily live and graze in places that cows can’t. A goat is also more efficient than a cow, and will turn the same amount of food and forage into more milk. If you’re still not convinced, rest assured that the key to enjoying goat cheese is using it in the right way. Give it a try with something sweet, like these blackberry and goat cheese toasts from Wry Toasts, or something savory, like this chicken skillet with red pepper, spinach, and goat cheese from Closet Cooking.
Do eat: Blue Roquefort
The French paradox refers to the tendency of the French to have generally good health, in spite of preferring foods high in saturated fat. Surprisingly, one of the secrets of the French diet seems to lay in blue Roquefort, a cheese that has been traditionally made and aged in a series of caves near Toulouse. Research done by scientists at Cambridge has found that the aged cheese has some surprising properties; not only does it act as an anti-inflammatory, but it’s also activated by the acidic environment of the human digestive system. That might help explain how the French largely avoid suffering from cardiovascular disease, in spite of their diet.
Blue Roquefort has another almost magical property, and that’s its ability to fight infection. Put those two things together, and it’s possible that blue Roquefort is one old superfood — it’s been around since 79 AD. If you’re not sure how to work this wonder food into your diet, start with this Roquefort cheesecake with pear preserves and pecans from Southern Living, or this Roquefort pear salad from The Girl Who Ate Everything.
Don’t eat: Queso fresco
Queso fresco is a staple of Mexican cuisine, but there’s a dangerous down side to this cheese: Listeria. Food Safety News says that queso fresco in particular has been linked to a series of outbreaks of food poisoning, both stemming from homemade and commercially produced queso fresco. Even large commercial facilities with clean health and safety records have had their product contaminated, and health inspectors also say even if you buy and unwrap a perfectly safe batch of queso fresco, it can easily pick up a contaminant from your home or fridge — and then there’s a problem.
The CDC recommends that pregnant women, people with compromised immune systems, and the elderly don’t eat queso fresco at all, the risk for listeria contamination is so great. The consequences are serious: it can be fatal, and has been linked to miscarriages. So, while you might love your queso fresco, it’s crucial to be aware of the potential dangers with this vulnerable soft cheese, and avoid it if you can.
Don’t eat: Mascarpone
Mascarpone isn’t just a pretty pricey cheese, it’s also about 50 percent fat. That fat content is what makes it an excellent dessert cheese and thickening agent in savory dishes, but it’s also what makes this one deserving of the unhealthy reputation cheese can have. If you were to eat a single tablespoon of mascarpone, you’d be eating about 10 percent of your daily allowance of dietary cholesterol, too — and since most people are trying to lower their cholesterol, not raise it, that makes being aware pretty important.
Fortunately, you can swap out mascarpone for low-fat ricotta or Neufchatel in many dishes. Beating these other two cheeses will turn them into a consistency similar to that of mascarpone, and cream cheese and Greek yogurt are also viable replacements. You can also replace part of the mascarpone to keep the flavor and lose some of the bad stuff, and that’s important — there’s a lot of bad stuff.
Don’t eat: Sheep cheese
If you think sheep cheese would be more environmentally friendly than cow’s cheese, you’re mistaken. It all comes down to just how much milk — and cheese — a sheep can produce. When researchers from MTT Agrifood Research Finland looked at how much methane was produced by sheep, cows, and goats and compared that to how much cheese was ultimately produced, they found that sheep were the least efficient of them all. If you want the most environmentally safe option, go with a goat cheese: not only are they the most efficient animals, but soft cheeses that haven’t been aged for a long time are the best when it comes to energy consumption, too.
Don’t eat: Cheddar
I can already hear your protests. If you just can’t give it up, moderation is the key when it comes to cheddar. It’s a favorite cheese, mostly because it’s versatile — and delicious. But it’s because you can eat so much of it without even realizing it that it can quickly become bad for you, especially considering it can contain a huge amount of salt.
The NHS recommends that adults consume no more than 6 grams — or one teaspoon — of salt a day. When the Consensus Action on Salt and Health tested various types of cheeses, they found that while salt content varied across brands of cheddar, some had a higher concentration of salt than actual seawater. A single, matchbox-sized serving of cheddar contained an average of .52 grams… and how many of those do you put on your nachos? Skip this one if you can.
Don’t eat: Gruyere
Generally, each slice of cheese is about an ounce. While a slice of Gruyere contains a lot of good things — like protein and calcium — it also has about 117 calories and 9 grams of fat per ounce. That means if you put just two slices on your sandwich, you’re adding more than 200 calories and 18 grams of fat to your daily intake. Essentially, you’re consuming about 26 percent of your daily allowance of fat in just a couple slices of cheese — not good. Take a look at the saturated fat in that same slice, and you’re eating about 5 grams per slice — those two slices on your sandwich account for half of your daily allotment.
That’s insane! If you’re watching what you eat — and even if you aren’t — there are plenty of healthier cheese options out there, like skim mozzarella. Opt for that on your sandwich (or just skip the cheese altogether), and your heart will thank you.
Don’t eat: Velveeta
Velveeta has a fascinating history (you can read about it here), and while you might know that it’s sort of a cheese product, you’ll probably still argue on its behalf to anyone who says it’s not real cheese. As amazing as it is in queso dip, you should still skip it for a few different reasons.
A single serving of Velveeta (which is 28 grams, and there’s 16 in that block) has 80 calories, which doesn’t seem like much. But 50 of those come from fat. There’s also 6 grams of fat (4 saturated grams). Given that it’s easy to sit and pick away at a bowl of queso dip all night, you know you’re going to be getting more than a single serving if this one’s on the menu. It’s also incredibly high in lactose, making it a problem for not just those who are lactose intolerant, but those who might be sensitive to dairy, too. While milk has between 3.7 and 4.8 percent lactose, Velveeta has a whopping 9.3 percent. Not only are you going to pack on the fat and calories, but you’re going to feel bad afterwards. Just don’t do it!
Don’t eat: Limburger
Even if you can’t stand the idea of limburger, you probably know someone who loves nothing more than putting some on a sandwich, and grossing out everyone else in the room. Fortunately, you now have some serious ammunition when it comes to supporting your theory that limburger is gross, and science agrees with you.
If you’re having a picnic and want to get the mosquitoes away without using all kinds of nasty-smelling sprays, put some limburger out away from the party. The mosquitoes will choose the limburger over you, and that’s because they think it’s an extra-strong version of what they’re attracted to in people: foot funk. Specifically, researchers have found that the bacteria that turns limburger into, well, limburger is the same genus of bacteria that’s on your feet. The stuff between your toes is Brevibacterium epidermidis, and it’s Brevibacterium linens that grows on soft, stinky cheeses. It grows when cheese makers wash the outside of the cheeses with water, which then nurtures the bacteria in the same way our sweaty feet do. That definitely doesn’t explain why some people love the stuff, but if you hate it, there’s your scientific explanation as to why eating it is gross. You’re welcome.