The Truth About Cheese and Health

Cheese can be part of a healthy diet if you know which ones are the best choices and know how to use them. Start with these six for maximum nutritional benefits.

  • Good-For-You Cheese
    By Laurie Herr, Lee Harrelson; Styling: Mindi Shapiro Levine

    Good-For-You Cheese

    Say "cheese" and sinfully-rich dishes often spring to mind. Cheese can be high in sodium and fat, but it also delivers powerful nutrients. A 1-ounce serving can pack up to a third of your daily calcium, plus protein and vitamin D, a critical nutrient many Americans don't get enough of. The trick is to know which kinds of cheeses are best and how to use them. Here are six cheeses you can easily incorporate into a healthy diet.

  • Parmesan
    By Laurie Herr, Randy Mayor

    Parmesan

    Parmesan has a grainy texture and a nutty, buttery flavor that intensifies with age. It's higher in calcium and lower in sodium than many other cheeses, and one tablespoon of shredded has just 23 calories. Because of its sharp flavor, you can use less and still get a big payoff in taste. The aging process also lowers the lactose content, making Parmesan easier to digest if you have lactose intolerance. Try it in Fig-and-Arugula Salad with Parmesan (photo), Oven-Fried Chicken Parmesan, and Buttermilk-Parmesan Mashed Potatoes.

  • Ricotta
    By Laurie Herr, Randy Mayor

    Ricotta

    Smooth, creamy, and slightly sweet, ricotta is one of the most versatile cheeses around, going from lasagnas and dips to desserts. The second highest dairy source of calcium, ricotta is low in sodium and a good source of protein and selenium, an antioxidant. Cut fat and calories by using part-skim ricotta. Try it in Fresh Tomato Lasagna (photo), Honey-Lavender Ricotta Ice Cream, and Broiled Ricotta Tomato Toasts.

  • Feta
    By Laurie Herr, Howard L. Puckett

    Feta

    In Greece it was first made from sheep's or goat's milk; in the U.S. it's usually made with cow's milk. Either way, it has a salty, tangy flavor that comes from curing the cheese in brine, which makes it high in sodium. But it's still a good source of protein, riboflavin, calcium, and phosphorous-and at 74 calories per 1-ounce serving, it's diet friendly, too. Avoid feta if you're pregnant. Soft cheeses such as feta can become contaminated with listeria, a bacteria that can be transferred to the baby. Try it in Hummus Pitas with Feta-Olive Salsa (photo), Feta Omelet with Breadcrumbs, and Creamy Feta-Spinach Dip.

  • Cottage Cheese
    By Laurie Herr, Randy Mayor; Stylist: Mary Catherine Muir

    Cottage Cheese

    One percent, two percent, non-fat, creamy or dry-cottage cheese comes in lots of varieties, yet they all share that bright white color, bumpy texture, and classic flavor. A dieter's standby, cottage cheese is low in fat and carbs but soaring in protein and calcium. The downside: it's high in sodium. Try it in Butter Crunch Lemon-Cheese Bars (photo), Cheese-Bacon Tart, and Smoked Salmon Spread.

  • Goat Cheese
    By Laurie Herr, Douglas Merriam

    Goat Cheese

    Also called chèvre, goat cheese can be creamy, crumbly, or semi-firm. It has a mild aroma and a strong, tangy taste. Lower in fat and calories than cheese made from cow's milk, goat cheese is high in protein. It's easily digestible, too, making it a good choice if you have lactose intolerance or dairy allergies. Avoid goat cheese if you're pregnant, as it may have bacteria that can be harmful to the baby. Try it in Herbed Goat Cheese (photo), Eggplant and Goat Cheese Sandwiches,and Pasta and Grilled Vegetables with Goat Cheese.
  • Gouda
    By Laurie Herr, Becky Luigart-Stayner; Stylist: Melanie J. Clarke

    Gouda

    This creamy cheese has a rich, buttery flavor, so you may not have thought about gouda being a healthy cheese. An excellent source of calcium, it's slightly lower in fat and calories than Cheddar, but higher in sodium. Try it in Tomato Pizza With Garlic and Smoked Gouda (photo), Mushroom and Spinach Frittata With Smoked Gouda, and Prosciutto and Smoked Gouda Panini.

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