Cheese is a great source of protein and calcium, but many cheeses are also high in cholesterol and saturated fat. In fact, Americans consume more fat from cheese than any other food, according to the National Cancer Institute.
Eating too much cholesterol or saturated fat increases your risk of high LDL cholesterol, high blood pressure, and heart disease. But while cheese can be a part of a healthy, well-balanced diet, which cheeses you choose and how much you eat matters.
This article highlights which types of cheese are low in fat and cholesterol and also includes several tips for how to enjoy cheese in moderation as part of a healthy diet.
What Is Low Fat Cheese?
Low-fat cheeses are low in saturated fat. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) defines foods as “low-saturated fat” if they have no more than one gram of saturated fat per serving.
The American Heart Association recommends eating no more than 5% to 6% of your daily calories in saturated fat. For a person who eats 2,000 calories per day, this means they should eat no more than 13 grams (120 calories worth) of saturated fat per day.
As for cholesterol, people who have risk factors for heart disease, such as high blood pressure and diabetes, should eat no more than 200 milligrams (mg) of cholesterol per day. People who do not have risk factors for heart disease should eat no more than 300 mg of cholesterol per day.
Best Low Saturated Fat Cheeses
A poll of 8,815 American adults revealed the most and least popular cheeses in the United States. The following shows the percentage of people who favored which cheeses:
- Cheddar cheese: 19%
- American cheese: 13%
- Mozzarella: 9%
- Swiss: 8%
- Pepper jack: 7%
- Colby jack: 7%
Unfortunately, none of these cheeses are low in saturated fat because they’re made from whole milk. However, several fat-free and low-fat versions of most popular types of cheese are widely available in supermarkets and contain far less saturated fat and cholesterol than their whole-fat counterparts.
The following chart lists the saturated fat and cholesterol content of numerous low-fat and fat-free cheeses.
|Fat and Cholesterol Content in Various Cheeses (per standard serving)
|Type of Cheese
|Saturated Fat (g)
|Cream cheese, fat-free
|American cheese, fat-free
|American cheese, low-fat
|Cheddar cheese, fat-free
|Cheddar cheese, low-fat
|Swiss cheese, fat-free
|Swiss cheese, low-fat
|Cottage cheese, fat-free
|Cottage cheese, 1% milkfat
|Cottage cheese, 2% milkfat
|Mozzarella cheese, fat-free
|Parmesan cheese topping, fat-free
|Ricotta cheese, fat-free
Altogether, you can’t go wrong with choosing low-fat or fat-free cheeses instead of their whole-milk counterparts. Any type of cheese made with nonfat or skim milk will have notably less saturated fat and cholesterol.
Cheese Tips for a Low-Cholesterol Diet
From pizza and pasta to salads and charcuterie, cheese is a staple in diets all around the world, and many meals wouldn’t be the same without it.
Fortunately, you don’t have to entirely remove cheese from your diet when watching your saturated fat and cholesterol intake. You should, however, pay close attention to how much cheese you are eating and stay within the recommended daily amount.
If you are limiting your cholesterol or saturated fat intake, or simply want to eat a more heart-healthy diet, the following tips might help:
- Do a cheese swap: Try using cottage cheese or ricotta instead of high-fat cheeses in your recipes. You may discover that these taste just as good.
- Look for low-fat cheese: Search for low-fat versions of your favorite cheese and always double-check the food label for cholesterol and saturated fat content.
- Opt for vegan cheese: Try a cheese substitute made from plant products, such as soy. Vegan cheeses lack the saturated fats that full-fat dairy products contain.
- Use smaller portions: Instead of placing three slices of cheese on your sandwich, stick to one. Look for thin pre-sliced cheeses that allow you to enjoy a full slice of cheese without as much cholesterol and saturated fat.
- Stop eyeballing: When adding shredded cheese, use a measuring cup or spoon instead of portioning cheese by hand.
- Maximize flavor: Look for hard cheeses and “stinky cheeses” that are more flavorful. You can grate just a small bit of aged Parmesan or Asiago onto your pasta or crumble flavorful blue cheese on a salad to satisfy a cheese craving.
While cheddar cheese and American cheese are the two most popular cheeses, they are also among the highest in cholesterol and saturated fat. Ricotta cheese, cottage cheese, and fat-free cheeses are not as popular, but they are much healthier.
Limiting how much cholesterol and saturated fat you consume is important for keeping your heart healthy. If you don’t want to stop eating cheese, you don’t have to; eat smaller portions, choose vegan or reduced-fat versions, or save your favorite cheese for special occasions.
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