There’s a reason why cheese is a core ingredient in so many comfort foods. It’s thick, creamy and rich in flavor. In fact, one scientific study found that eating cheese lights up the same part of the brain as opioids, so eating cheese really can be addictive.
Delicious? Absolutely. But is cheese healthy? On one hand, it’s widely known that cheese contains calcium, which supports bone health. But on the other hand, most cheeses are high in fat. That makes cheese quite the health conundrum. Let’s see what registered dietitians have to say, shall we?
Is Cheese Healthy?
“Cheese offers folks rich flavors and taste and easily fits into a healthy lifestyle,” says Judy Simon, RD, a registered dietitian, owner of Mind Body Nutrition, and a faculty member at University Washington Nutritional Sciences Program.
Registered dietitian Miranda Galati, RD, agrees that cheese can fit into an overall healthy diet. “Cheese can be a healthy addition to a well-balanced and nutritious diet,” she says. But Galati adds that there are individual factors to consider too. “It depends on your overall diet, your unique health concerns, and the frequency of your cheese consumption,” she says.
To this point, Simon says that those with high cholesterol or other cardiovascular concerns should be mindful of the fat content in the cheeses they consume. “Cheese varies in its fat content,” she says, adding that most of this fat is saturated fat.
If you are trying to minimize your saturated fat consumption, she recommends using cheese more sparingly such as by grating Parmesan or sprinkling feta cheese—which is lower in calories than many other kinds of cheese—on salads or veggies. She adds that processed cheese can be high in sodium, something else to be mindful of too.
As every cheese lover knows, there’s a wide variety of cheeses to choose from. What should someone keep in mind when shopping for cheese if they want to pick a healthy option? “All varieties of cheese can be included in a balanced and healthy diet. I recommend choosing the cheeses you enjoy most and aiming to get a variety of plant foods elsewhere in your diet,” Galati says. “Cheese is nutrient-dense and so delicious, but alternating it with plant proteins and healthy fats is important for optimal health.” Galati adds that it’s also important to be mindful of how much cheese you’re consuming since it’s a high-calorie food.
With these caveats in place, there are many ways that regularly eating a moderate amount of cheese can benefit the body.
5 Health Benefits of Cheese
1. It has protein
One health benefit of cheese both registered dietitians point out is that cheese contains protein. “Cheese is a quick and easy way to add staying power to carbohydrate-rich snacks like crackers, fruit and bread,” Galati says. But the amount of protein you’re getting depends on the type of cheese you’re consuming. Galati says that firmer cheeses like Parmesan, cheddar, gouda and mozzarella offer more protein, especially lower fat varieties. “Cottage cheese is another great protein-rich option. Softer and spreadable cheeses like ricotta and cream cheese offer less protein and might be less filling,” she adds.
2. Eating cheese is good for your bones
Another benefit of eating cheese is that it’s a good source of calcium, phosphorus and vitamin D, which Simon says all directly support bone health. Calcium is also important for muscle and cardiovascular health. Feta, mozzarella, cheddar, Parmesan and Gruyere are especially high in calcium.
3. It may lessen feelings of depression
While you’ve probably noticed that eating cheese can lead to a mood boost, did you know the reason for it goes beyond just the taste? Simon points out that one nutrient in cheese is magnesium. Magnesium has been linked to lessening symptoms of depression and anxiety. Perhaps it’s yet another reason why cheese is so often used in comfort food.
4. Eating cheese supports brain health
Another nutrient both dietitians say cheese has is vitamin B12. This nutrient is especially important for cognitive health. If you really want to up your vitamin B12 intake, go for Swiss cheese, which has more of the nutrient than any other cheese.
5. Cheese supports eye health
Simon and Galati say that cheese also contains vitamin A, an important nutrient for vision health. (Vitamin A also supports the immune system.) Add your cheese to a salad made with leafy greens, red bell pepper, tomato, egg and salmon for a meal that’s especially high in vitamin A.
As if you needed another reason to eat cheese, now you have five. “As a dietitian, I love cheese and enjoy it regularly!” Galati says. “No single food choice will make or break your health. If you love cheese, please continue to enjoy it. Just be sure to include variety in your cheese choices and overall diet too.”