Cheese gets a bad rap. Probably because it’s so delicious, and nothing that delicious can actually be good for you. Right?
Whenever someone proclaims she’s a big cheese lover, we think that addiction will go straight to her waistline—but that’s not necessarily the case. Cheese can totally be a part of a well-balanced, healthy diet. “I am a huge fan of cheese,” says Keri Gans, M.S., R.D., author of The Small Change Diet. “Looking at the total diet, there can certainly be room for one or two servings a day.” And whether you like mozzarella, feta, goat cheese, or cheddar, you don’t have to forego the varieties you like best in favor or one that’s lower in fat or calories. In fact, Gans enjoys all of them in moderation. Here are her tips for eating cheese effectively—without going overboard and gaining:
1. Choose cheese as a snack.
Gans says her absolute favorite way to incorporate cheese into a healthy diet is to nosh on it between meals. “It makes the perfect snack, along with a piece of fruit,” she says. “It’s a great source of calcium and protein—and it’s portable, too.” Stock up on pre-portioned options, such as The Laughing Cow wedges or mini Babybel cheeses, and pair them with fruit, whole wheat crackers, or a piece of toast with egg whites and sliced tomato.
2. Watch your saturated fat intake.
Most health-conscious people are aware of calories, but when it comes to having a serving of cheese Gans says it’s more important to check out the source of those calories. “With cheese, I’m most worried about a person’s saturated fat intake,” she says. According to the American Heart Association, only 5 to 6 percent of your daily calories should come from saturated fat, roughly 12 or 13 grams per day. Which means, if you’re getting a lot of saturated fat elsewhere, you may have to limit your cheese consumption.
3. A little goes a long way.
Because it’s so tasty, it’s a good idea to rely on strategies that will prevent you from overeating, says Gans. Choose pre-portioned cheeses, cut one ounce off a block at home, or measure out one tablespoon before you start munching. “The main thing is portion control,” says Gans. “Two tablespoons of feta on a salad can go a long way. And one tablespoon of parmesan on a pasta dish is all you need.” If you simply sprinkle or nosh without checking the portion first, you’ll likely eat too much—and you won’t necessarily enjoy it more.
4. Pick and choose.
Just as with portion control, it’s important that you don’t take the “you can totally eat cheese!” line of thinking too far and put cheese on everything, says Gans. This is where people get into trouble—and why cheese has that bad rap in the first place. “If you want it on the burger, then you can’t have it on the omelet,” says Gans. “Especially on the same day.” When in doubt, make sure you’re not topping a dish or adding cheese to a snack more than once or twice a day. If you do that, you’re likely in good shape.