The ketogenic diet, or the keto diet for short, is a high-fat (70 to upwards of 80 percent), moderate-protein, and low-carb diet. A common goal on the plan: to change your body’s biochemistry and, in turn, lead to weight loss.
“Following a ketogenic diet changes your fuel source from one that primarily burns carbohydrates to one that burns fat,” says Olivia Wagner, RDN, a functional dietitian at Liv Nourished in Chicago. In metabolic terms, this process is called ketosis.
One of the perks of a keto diet, followers say, is that cheese is not off-limits. In fact, cheese is basically the perfect keto food: high-fat, moderate-protein, and low-carb. “Cheese can add flavor, variety, and new textures into your meals,” says Wagner, adding that the best varieties for the keto diet are high-quality, grass-fed, and full-fat. (Just remember: Cheese isn’t “unlimited” in a keto diet, as it still contains calories and carbs; it’s also high in saturated fat, which is a less heart-healthy option than unsaturated fats, per the American Heart Association.)
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Cheese might not be the first food you think of when it comes to weight loss, and yet some research suggests the food may be beneficial for this purpose. For example, in a study on more than 2,500 men who self-reported their intake of dairy products, a higher consumption of cheese specifically was associated with a lower BMI after a five-year follow-up, per an study published in October 2018 in Nutrients. (That said, cheese is high in calories, and so while it can fit into a weight loss or maintenance diet, it’s best enjoyed in moderation.)
Some studies have also suggested that cheese may benefit certain health outcomes, too. Cheese may be linked to better cognition with age, concluded an observational study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease in February 2021. And an earlier meta-analysis on 29 cohort studies, which involved more than 938,465 people and was published in the April 2017 issue of the European Journal of Epidemiology, found that participants who ate 10 grams (g) of cheese (or about ⅓ of an ounce) per day had a slightly lower risk of cardiovascular disease than those who did not. (However, this conclusion was based on a single study. It also relied on “food frequency questionnaires,” a method that’s validated by science but is error-prone because it relies on the memories of participants. It’s also important to note that in all of this research, the authors write that more research needs to be done to determine a potential mechanism.)
If you find that your results are plateauing while on keto, you may want to take it easy on the cheese, says April Murray, RDN, founder of Orange County Nutrition Coaching in Costa Mesa, California. “Sometimes people lose weight much quicker and feel better when they take out dairy,” she says. If you find you tolerate it okay, there’s no reason to omit it, but if you’re struggling with gastrointestinal side effects or water retention — or if you find that you’re not losing weight despite being in ketosis — it may be time to discuss the role of dairy in your diet with your healthcare team.
If you’ve decided to add cheese to your keto diet menu, you should also know that not all cheeses are created equal. Here’s what you need to know about which cheeses to eat, which to limit, and which to skip altogether.
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The 5 Best Types of Cheese to Eat on the Keto Diet