Can I Eat Cheese on a Low-Fat Diet?

Assorted cheeses
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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?

The Long and Short of It

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 also is an excellent nutrition source because it is high in 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 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.

Reduced-Fat Cheeses

Many kinds of cheese are naturally lower in fat than others. These include part-skim mozzarella, string cheeses, farmer's 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 the 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% 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.

Fat-Free Cheeses

As for fat-free cheeses, well, most of it 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.

Moderation Is Key

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

Remember, the American Heart Association continues to recommend limiting our daily intake of saturated fat to less than 7%. The  Dietary Guidelines Committee suggests 10% even though it has lifted restrictions of total fat and cholesterol.