Traditional cheeses are safe, delicious, and culturally and historically signiﬁcant. Many people have questions about these cheeses and how they might be incorporated into a healthy diet. Want to learn more? Check out our list of frequently asked questions below.
Frequently Asked Questions about Cheese
How healthy is it to eat cheese?
When it comes to the healthfulness of cheese, quality and moderation are key. Cheese provides a number of important nutrients such as protein, calcium and phosphorus, which help build and maintain strong bones. On the other hand, cheese can also contribute to saturated fat and sodium intake, and the calories in cheese can add up quickly. Not all cheeses are created equal, and the levels of nutrients can vary depending on the type. Traditionally produced cheeses, where raw milk from pasture-raised, grass-fed cows is fermented, may have further health beneﬁts, as fermented foods are linked with healthy changes to the gut microbiome. However, many ultra-processed cheeses such as American cheese slices and cheese spreads are ﬁlled with hydrogenated oils, food colorings, emulsiﬁers and other unnecessary additives.
In a 2017 study published in the European Journal of Nutrition, researchers analyzed the eating patterns and health outcomes of thousands of adults across 15 studies, to see how eating diﬀerent amounts of cheese relates to heart disease. They found that eating more cheese was related to a 10-14% lower risk of heart disease and a 10% lower risk of stroke than eating less cheese, and that the greatest beneﬁt was associated with eating about 1 ½ ounces (40g) of cheese per day. However, keep in mind that this is less cheese than most US and European adults are currently eating, at 42.5g and 49g respectively.
For those who enjoy cheese, it is just one aspect of an overall healthy diet, including the Mediterranean diet, and is the perfect accompaniment to nutritious, plant-based foods that people don’t get enough of. Try shaving some Parmigiano-Reggiano or pecorino-style cheeses over a green salad, or enjoying a small piece of Gruyére AOP with fresh fruit for dessert.
Does dairy cause mucus production?
Research suggests that when milk is broken down in the colon, it can create a compound (beta-CM-7) that stimulates mucus production. However, this theory has yet to be proven, as research on humans in real world situations has yet to ﬁnd a clear link between dairy consumption and mucus production. A randomized controlled trial comparing soy beverages with dairy beverages found no diﬀerence in symptoms (postnasal drip, sinus congestion, breathing diﬃculty). Similarly, a large review of studies analyzing dairy and mucus found that although milk can make mucus and saliva “feel” thicker, current evidence does not suggest that milk and dairy cause increased mucus production. Research on dairy and asthma is inconclusive. One small study found that whole milk, but not skim or low fat milk, negatively impacted the pulmonary diﬀusing capacity (a measure of how the lungs transfer gas to red blood cells). However, other studies have found no impact on lung function in people with asthma, indicating that more research is needed to fully understand this relationship. (Note: If you are concerned that your diet might be impacting your symptoms, we highly recommend that you work with your healthcare team to ﬁnd an eating plan that works for your speciﬁc needs.)
Is one type of cheese healthier than others? Is goat’s milk cheese better?
While cheese can be a part of healthy diet, not all cheeses are created equal. Nutrients can vary depending on the type and how it is made. Traditional and artisanal cheeses made using time tested techniques such as using raw milk or natural cultures and molds are delicious and preserve beneﬁcial vitamins, minerals, and bacteria. However, many ultra-processed cheeses such as American cheese slices and cheese spreads are ﬁlled with hydrogenated oils, food colorings, emulsiﬁers and other unnecessary additives. In addition, the nutrient proﬁle of cheese can diﬀer depending on the type. Goat cheese, for example, is a healthy choice as it contains protein, calcium, iron, vitamin B12 and D. Goat cheeses can be fresh and light like many chévres made locally all around the world; bloomy-rinded like the cheeses from the Loire Valley in France and new American-made cheese following in these cheesemaking style; semi-hard like goat’s milk tommes or goudas; or even goat cheddars.
Other nutritious options include cow’s milk cheeses like cottage cheese, traditional cheddar, and queso fresco, and sheep’s milk cheese like pecorino-style cheese or Manchego and cheeses made in the Basque country.
Should I be worried about sodium in cheese?
Cheesemaking requires salt as an ingredient to enhance the ﬂavor, control moisture, and prevent harmful bacteria growth. However, salt found in cheese is not a large contributor of sodium in the diet for most adults. In fact, more than 70% of the sodium Americans eat comes from restaurant, prepackaged, and processed foods such as deli meats, breads and rolls, and prepared soups (CDC). But if you’re concerned about sodium intake, you can opt for fresher, less salty cheeses such as mozzarella (138mg/oz) or cottage cheese (115mg/oz). Check the nutrition facts label to see how much sodium is in one serving of the cheese. Recipes with cheese may also not require as much salt, so be sure to taste before seasoning.
I have celiac disease or am sensitive to gluten. Which cheeses are safe to eat?
Gluten is a protein found in some grains, including wheat, rye and barley. This means dairy products are naturally gluten-free. However, there is potential for processed cheese, cheese spreads or foods containing cheese to be mixed with gluten-containing grains or derivatives of gluten that are used as thickeners, emulsiﬁers, and gelling agents. It’s best to choose natural hard varieties such as cheddar, gouda, Monterey jack, or Parmigiano-Reggiano to be certain you’re avoiding gluten. It is also best to not buy pre-shredded cheese mix or processed parmesan, as many of those pre-packed cheeses may have anti-caking agents that could contain gluten.
Penicillium Roqueforti mold responsible for the veining in blue cheeses is normally inoculated on rye breads. Therefore, it is safer to check allergen lists before choosing a blue cheese. Other cheeses may also be gluten-free, but be sure to read the ingredient list or consult your doctor or dietitian if you’re unsure.
I am lactose intolerant. Which kinds of cheeses can I eat?
While all cheese contains lactose, some types have less than others. Lactose is higher in whey than in the curd, therefore cheese has less lactose than milk. After the making process cheeses have residual lactose, which is turned into lactic acid during the aging process, so the older a cheese is, the less lactose it contains. Hard, naturally-aged cheeses, such as cheddar and gouda, are generally well tolerated by those with lactose intolerance. In addition, cheese made from goat’s and sheep’s milk is often more digestible. The fat molecules in in these milks are signiﬁcantly smaller than those in cow’s milk, making them easier for bodies to break down and reducing symptoms in people with lactose intolerance. Fresher cheeses, such as mozzarella, ricotta, or cottage cheese, tend to have more lactose than aged cheeses, and may be diﬃcult to tolerate for people with lactose intolerance. That being said, everyone’s tolerance for lactose is diﬀerent so it’s best to listen to your body and respond accordingly.
How healthy is it to eat cheeses made from nuts?
The Oldways Cheese Coalition does not have any speciﬁc recommendations or guidelines for cheeses made from nut sources. Most of Oldways’ plant-based recipes tend to focus on minimally processed, whole plant ingredients, rather than meat and cheese substitutes. We recommend reading through the ingredient list and nutrition facts label to make sure that the product meets your nutritional needs. We also recommend tasting, whenever possible, as the ﬂavors and textures of cheeses from nut sources tend to vary widely.
Why does cheese make me bloated?
Fiber (and water) are necessary to keep things moving along the digestive tract. However, unlike plant-based foods, cheese contains no ﬁber. High-fat, low-carbohydrate diets have been associated with bloating due to their low ﬁber content. The lactose in some dairy products may also be a culprit for bloating in certain populations. Aside from lactose intolerance, lactose is also a type of FODMAP, a carbohydrate associated with digestive symptoms in some patients with IBS. However, note that while all cheese contains lactose, some types have less than others. Fresher cheeses, such as mozzarella, ricotta, or cottage cheese, tend to have more lactose than aged cheeses (like gouda and hard cheeses), and may be diﬃcult to tolerate for people with lactose intolerance. If you suspect that cheese may be causing you intestinal distress, keep a food and symptom diary, and then speak with your physician or registered dietitian.
Can I eat cheese if I have diabetes?
Cheese can be a part of a healthful diet for patients with diabetes by providing important nutrients such as calcium and protein and making nutritious foods such as whole grains and vegetables more enjoyable. However, there are a few important considerations to note if you have diabetes. While cheese itself is a low-carb, low-glycemic food, it is often consumed with other foods that can impact your blood sugar, such as fruit, honey, and crackers. As with all foods, moderation is key.
Which types of cheeses can I eat while pregnant? How about while breastfeeding?
During pregnancy, the mother’s immune system is weakened while the baby’s immune system is underdeveloped. This increases the risk of food poisoning, which can cause serious or even life-threatening health problems for both the mother and baby. Although Listeria, a harmful bacterium, is rare in raw and unpasteurized cheeses, Listeria is 20 times more likely to cause illness in pregnant women than other healthy adults. Therefore, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans advise that pregnant women avoid unpasteurized cheeses (including some types of Feta, queso blanco, queso fresco, Brie, Camembert cheeses, and blue-veined cheeses). However, there is no need to avoid raw or unpasteurized cheeses while breastfeeding.
Does cheese expire? When should I throw it out?
The shelf-life of cheese depends on the type – the softer the cheese, the shorter it lasts. This is because softer cheeses contain more moisture, which makes it easier for bacteria to grow. Tightly wrapped hard cheeses can last in the refrigerator 6 months unopened and 3-4 weeks in after being opened. Soft cheeses such as cream cheese can last two weeks, while cottage and ricotta cheeses will only last a week or so once opened. Consult the expiration date on the package for further guidance, or speak with your cheesemonger about the best way to maintain its freshness. You can remove mold from hard cheeses by cutting a 1-inch square around it if the rest of the cheese was unaﬀected. If your cheese develops a rancid, oﬀ-smell or shows widespread growth of mold, that is a good sign that it’s time to throw it out.
Can I freeze cheese?
Technically, you can freeze cheese, as freezing prevents the growth of harmful bacteria. However, freezing will change the texture of cheese, so you will want to take into consideration how the cheese will be used afterwards. For example, hard cheeses such as cheddar will become crumbly once thawed so it may be best used for recipes where the cheese will be cooked (such as a casserole). Soft cheeses like mozzarella can be frozen before the expiration date, but should be used as quickly as possible once thawed.
Are fresh cheeses lower in fat?
Many soft, fresh cheeses, such as cottage cheese (1g fat/oz) or ricotta (3g fat/oz) tend to be lower in fat than hard cheeses like parmesan-style (7g fat/oz), Swiss (8g fat/oz) or cheddar (9g fat/oz), although that is not always the case. Brie is a soft, aged cheese that happens to be higher in fat (8g fat/oz). For comparison, fresh mozzarella has about 6g fat/oz, as does feta. You can also use the nutrition facts label to better compare the amount of fat in diﬀerent cheeses, and ﬁnd the cheese that best meets your needs.
Is melting cheese more fatty than ﬁrm cheese?
High fat cheeses such Cheshire (9g fat/oz) and Leicester (9g fat/oz) are good melters. However, there are other factors besides fat content that impact melting. Some high moisture cheeses such as mozzarella (6g fat/oz) melt better than lower moisture, higher fat cheeses like parmesan-style (7g fat/oz). Additionally, high acid cheeses, like Swiss-style (8g fat/oz) are typically not good melters.
Is cheese environmentally sustainable?
Animal foods, like cheese, tend to be less environmentally sustainable than plant-based foods, like grains or legumes, as animals require more land, resources, and water to produce a smaller amount of food. The 2019 EAT LANCET report, which set speciﬁc targets for sustainable food production, recommends a target intake of 250g (about 9 oz) of dairy foods per day, of which cheese could certainly play a signiﬁcant role. North Americans are currently exceeding this recommendation by about 45%. Cheesemaking practices vary widely from one producer to another, meaning that some cheeses may be more sustainable than others. Speak to the cheesemonger at your cheese counter or do online research, so that you can seek out dairy farmers who are good stewards of their land. There are also a number of certiﬁed organic cheeses available, which are required to meet certain standards that promote ecological balance and sustainability.