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Can I Eat Cheese on a Low Fat Diet?

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Assorted Cheeses

Assorted Cheeses

Fiona Haynes

Question: Can I Eat Cheese on a Low Fat Diet?

Cheese is a wonderful source of protein, calcium and phosphorus, but it's also a major source of saturated fat. So is there room  for cheese in a low-fat diet?

Answer: The short answer is yes, you can continue to eat cheese, but not in large quantities. Regular cheddar has about 9 grams of fat per ounce, 6 grams of which are saturated. We tend to be somewhat heavy-handed with cheese, liberally sprinkling handfuls of it on our pizza, in omelets, or in mac and cheese. Yet on the plus side, cheese is also an excellent source of protein, calcium, and phosphorus.

So what’s a cheese lover to do? Compromise most of the time and treat yourself some of the time. This means changing your relationship with cheese. Instead of using it as a central ingredient, use it to accent dishes. Aged cheese is a good for this. It tends to be more flavorful so you actually don't need to use very much of it. Such cheeses include extra-sharp or sharp cheddar, Gorgonzola, Parmesan, and Asiago.

Many cheeses are naturally lower in fat than others. These include part-skim mozzarella, string cheeses, farmers cheese, and Neufchâtel. Goat cheese is lower in fat and has fewer calories than cow's milk cheese.

A number of common cheeses are widely available in reduced-fat form, including Cheddar, Monterey Jack, mozzarella, Brie, Swiss, Colby, Muenster and American. Lower-fat cheeses tend to be milder in flavor, have a more rubbery texture, and have different cooking characteristics. But don’t write them off completely. Some brands of reduced-fat cheese are actually very good—Cabot cheese comes to mind.

Reduced-fat cheeses have about 6 grams of fat, with 4 grams of saturated fat. These cheeses work well in sandwiches and salads. Bags of shredded 2 percent cheese are useful substitutes for pizza toppings or for use in your favorite comfort-food dishes. They don’t melt well under direct heat, however, so avoid using them under the broiler.

As for fat-free cheeses, well, I’m the first to admit that fat-free cheese really isn’t worth eating—except, possibly, the shredded variety as a salad garnish. Fat-free cream cheese is fine blended in with other ingredients, or with herbs added.

So go ahead and eat some cheese, but use it less often and more sparingly.

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