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The surprising health benefits of cheese

A closer look at the health benefits of cheese and healthy recipes with cheese you could try

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An illustration of cheese.

An illustration of cheese.

Michelle Budge, Deseret News

From brie to cheddar, cheese can be shredded on top of a salad or eaten alongside fruit and crackers. But is it healthy?

The short answer is yes, cheese can be part of a healthy diet. There are lots of different kinds of cheeses with ranging health benefits.

Here’s a closer look at the benefits of cheese and some recipes that incorporate different kinds of cheese.

What is cheese?

At a basic level, cheese is a solid dairy product made from milk. Ancient cultures discovered cheese when they left milk out in the sun and it curdled, according to Harvard Health Publishing. Salt and other additives can change the flavor of cheese.

The art of cheesemaking has been around for thousands of years across different cultures. Ancient Egyptian tomb murals depict cheese and cheesemaking, per the National Historic Cheesemaking Center. There is no agreed upon origin story of the making of cheese, but it’s believed sheep’s milk was used for cheese early on.

Is cheese healthy?

Cheese can be healthy in moderation.

It’s a calorie-dense food, which means it has a lot of calories in small portions. It also is high in fat (saturated fat), which means it’s important to watch portions. Cheese has a high content of vitamin K2, according to a study published in Frontiers in Nutrition. Researchers said it was “a neutral food that fits a healthy diet.”

Cheese also has health benefits like protein, vitamin B12, zinc, calcium and vitamin D, according to WebMD. What the nutrients in cheese can mean for you are better bone and muscle health, less inflammation (and may be even beneficial for preventing heart disease and obesity), lower blood pressure, blood vessel protection and gut health.

Moderate consumption of some cheeses in conjunction to fruits, vegetables, milk and bread has been found to contribute to longevity of life. A study published in Nature that followed populations from three French areas for around 15 years found that “moderate consumptions of yogurts and cottage cheese, other cheeses” was associated with a lower risk of death.

What’s the healthiest kind of cheese?

Here are nine of the healthiest kinds of cheese you can eat, according to Healthline.

  1. Mozzarella.
  2. Feta.
  3. Cottage cheese.
  4. Blue cheese.
  5. Cheddar.
  6. Goat cheese.
  7. Ricotta.
  8. Parmesan.
  9. Swiss.

Some principles for choosing healthy cheese are:

  1. Look for a lower fat and lower sodium cheese. Mozzarella is an example of a cheese with lower sodium and fat compared to other types of cheeses, and given its mild flavor, it can be used in a variety of different dishes.
  2. When eating a hard cheese like Parmesan, remember the high sodium content and be mindful of the portion size. The good news is Parmesan has a distinctive flavor, so a little bit of it can add big taste to a dish.
  3. If you pick up cheddar cheese or another high-protein and high-fat cheese, it’s important to watch the portion size, because there’s typically a high amount of saturated fat.
  4. While all cheese is processed (it is processed from milk into cheese), some cheese is more processed than others, per Today. Limiting processed cheeses like American cheese or canned spray cheese may be a healthier choice.

What are healthy ways to eat cheese?

  1. Sprinkle some feta or shredded mozzarella on top of a salad loaded with vegetables. You can use olive oil and vinegar for a simple dressing that allows the flavor of the cheese to stand out.
  2. Think of cheese as an accent to help increase your vegetable intake. Melting a little bit of cheese across some broccoli or asparagus can be a good way to up your vegetable intake.
  3. Pair an ounce of cheese with berries for dessert. While cheese isn’t always thought of as a dessert food, brie or mascarpone go well with berries and can be part of a satiating dessert that may make the berries more satisfying.
  4. Shred some cheese into scrambled eggs with vegetables for a healthy breakfast.
  5. If you’re craving a cheesy pizza, try halving the amount of cheese you would usually put on the pizza and adding vegetables and lean protein for a satiating slice.
  6. Swap out a higher-calorie cheese for a lower-calorie cheese in a dish. Instead of eating baked ziti with higher-fat cheeses, try using cottage cheese or another lower-calorie cheese. You can still use a higher-fat cheese in the dish by sprinkling it on top.

8 healthy recipes with cheese

  1. Bon Appetit’s best caprese salad.
  2. How Sweet Eats’ roasted broccoli caesar salad.
  3. Taste of Home’s butternut squash mac and cheese.
  4. Food Network’s figs with ricotta, pistachio and honey.
  5. Love & Lemons’ Mediterranean chickpea salad.
  6. BBC Good Food’s pesto and goat cheese risotto.
  7. The Healthy Epicurean’s Mediterranean flatbread pizza.
  8. All Recipes’ spinach and feta turkey burgers.