What cheese should I avoid?

Cheese is a great source of protein and calcium, but many cheeses are also high in cholesterol and saturated fat. In fact, Americans consume more fat from cheese than any other food,according to the National Cancer Institute.

Eating too much cholesterol or saturated fat increases your risk of high LDL cholesterol, high blood pressure, and heart disease. But while cheese can be a part of a healthy, well-balanced diet, which cheeses you choose and how much you eat matters.

This article compares types of cheese that are low in fat and cholesterol with types of cheese that are high in them. It also includes several tips for how you can enjoy cheese in moderation as part of a healthy diet.

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How Much Is Too Much?

The American Heart Association recommends eating no more than 5% to 6% of your daily calories in saturated fat. For a person who eats 2,000 calories per day, this means they should eat no more than 13 grams (120 calories worth) of saturated fat per day.

As for cholesterol, people who have risk factors for heart disease, such as high blood pressure and diabetes, should eat no more than 200 milligrams (mg) of cholesterol per day. People who do not have risk factors for heart disease should eat no more than 300 mg of cholesterol per day.

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Cheeses Low or High in Saturated Fat

A poll of 8,815 American adults revealed the most and least popular cheeses in the United States. The most favored cheeses are:

  • 19% of people said cheddar cheese is their favorite
  • 13% said American cheese
  • 9% said mozzarella
  • 8% said Swiss
  • 7% said pepper jack
  • 7% said Colby jack

On the other end, just 1% of Americans said ricotta cheese is their favorite. But while ricotta cheese has 2.4 grams of saturated fat per ounce, cheddar cheese has more than double that amount with 5.3 grams of saturated fat per ounce.

Cottage cheese, which is a popular breakfast staple in many parts of the world, is very low in saturated fat, even compared to ricotta. One cup of cottage cheese contains 6 grams of saturated fat, while one cup of shredded cheddar cheese contains about 24 grams of saturated fat.

Low-fat and fat-free versions of most popular types of cheese are widely available in supermarkets. In many cases, low-fat cheeses contain half as much saturated fat as their whole-fat counterparts.

The following chart compares 24 types of popular cheeses, ordered from most saturated fat content to least:

CheeseSaturated Fat (grams per ounce)Cream cheese5.7Muenster cheese5.4Cheddar cheese5.3Mexican cheese (queso chihuahua)5.3Blue cheese5.3Swiss cheese5.2American cheese, processed5.1Provolone cheese4.8Swiss cheese, processed4.5Parmesan cheese, grated4.4Camembert cheese4.3Feta cheese4.2American cheese spread, processed3.8Mozzarella, whole milk3.7Neufchatel cheese3.6Mozzarella, low moisture, part-skim3.2Ricotta, whole milk2.4Ricotta, part skim milk1.4Parmesan cheese topping, fat-free0.9Cottage cheese, creamed0.5Cottage cheese, low-fat, 2% milkfat0.4Cottage cheese, low-fat, 1% milkfat0.2Cottage cheese, fat-free0.0American cheese, fat-free0.0

Recap

The two most popular cheeses in the U.S. are cheddar cheese and processed American cheese, both of which contain over 5 grams of saturated fat per ounce. Selecting a low-fat or fat-free version of these cuts the amount of saturated fat per serving by at least half.

Cheeses Low or High in Cholesterol

Once again, cheddar cheese and processed American cheese rank high on the list of cheeses with the most cholesterol, topped only by Mexican cheese and cream cheese.

Cottage cheese and fat-free cheeses contain the least cholesterol per serving. And even whole milk ricotta cheese contains half the amount of cholesterol as cheddar cheese.

All together, you can't go wrong with choosing low-fat or fat-free cheeses instead of their whole-milk counterparts. Any type of cheese made with nonfat or skim milk will have notably less saturated fat and cholesterol.

This next chart compares the same 24 popular cheeses, ordered from most cholesterol content to least:

CheeseCholesterol (mg per ounce)Mexican cheese (queso chihuahua)30Cream cheese29American cheese, processed28Cheddar cheese28Muenster cheese27Swiss cheese26Feta cheese25Swiss cheese, processed24Parmesan cheese, grated24Mozzarella cheese, whole milk22Neufchatel cheese21Blue cheese21Provolone cheese20Camembert cheese20Mozzarella, low moisture, part skim18American cheese spread16Ricotta, whole milk14Ricotta, part skim milk9American cheese, fat-free7Parmesan cheese topping, fat-free6Cottage cheese, creamed5Cottage cheese, low-fat, 2% milkfat3Cottage cheese, nonfat2Cottage cheese, low-fat, 1% milkfat1

Recap

Cheddar cheese and processed American cheese have twice as much cholesterol per serving as whole-milk ricotta cheese. You can reduce how much cholesterol you consume by choosing cottage cheese, ricotta cheese, or cheese made with nonfat milk.

Low-Cholesterol Diet Cheese Tips

From pizza and pasta to salads and charcuterie, cheese is a staple in diets all around the world, and many meals wouldn't be the same without it.

Fortunately, you don't have to entirely remove cheese from your diet when watching your saturated fat and cholesterol intake. You should, however, pay close attention to how much cheese you are eating and stay within the recommended daily amount.

If you are limiting your cholesterol or saturated fat intake, or simply wanting to eat a more heart-healthy diet, the following tips might help:

  • Do a cheese swap: Try using cottage cheese or ricotta instead of high-fat cheeses in your recipes. You may discover that these taste just as good.
  • Look for low-fat versions of your favorite cheeses: Search for low-fat versions of your favorite cheese and always double-check the food label for cholesterol and saturated fat content.
  • Opt for vegan cheese: Try a cheese substitute made from plant products, such as soy. Vegan cheeses lack the saturated fats that full-fat dairy products contain.
  • Use smaller portions: Instead of placing three slices of cheese onto your sandwich, stick to one. Look for thin pre-sliced cheeses that allow you to enjoy a full slice of cheese without as much cholesterol and saturated fat.
  • Stop eyeballing: When adding shredded cheese, use a measuring cup or spoon instead of portioning cheese by hand.
  • Maximize flavor: Look for hard cheeses and "stinky cheeses" that are more flavorful. You can grate just a small bit of aged Parmesan or Asiago onto your pasta or crumble flavorful blue cheese on a salad to satisfy a cheese craving.

Summary

While cheddar cheese and American cheese are the two most popular cheeses, they are also among the highest in cholesterol and saturated fat. Ricotta cheese, cottage cheese, and nonfat cheeses are not as popular, but they are much healthier.

Limiting how much cholesterol and saturated fat you consume is important for keeping your heart healthy. If you don't want to stop eating cheese, you don't have to; eat smaller portions, choose vegan or reduced-fat versions, or save your favorite cheese for special occasions.

A Word From Verywell

Unhealthy cheeses are commonly used in unhealthy comfort foods, like mac and cheese, pizza, and lasagna. There are healthier ways to make (or order) each of these, for example, by using olive oil instead of butter, and asking for vegan cheese next time you order a pizza.

Keep in mind that restaurant menus rarely inform you about how much saturated fat or cholesterol a dish contains. So if you can't resist your favorite restaurant's cheesiest meal, see if you can make it at home with a healthier twist.

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