What Are the 'Healthiest' Types of Cheese?

Different types of cheeses.

Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

Cheese is a notoriously craveable food. It has a creamy texture, it's filling, and it melts like a dream. Additionally, cheese contains casomorphin, a chemical compound of casein protein that delivers a calming, gently euphoric effect.

Because it contains saturated fat, which can be dangerous for your heart health, cheese gets a bad rap as an overall unhealthy food. However, this isn't exactly the case, and cheese can very much be part of a healthy diet.

What Makes A "Healthy" Choice For Cheese?

Because saturated fat is the main component of cheese, many regard it as unhealthy. However, the healthiest types of cheeses are the ones that offer enough nutrients to offset the saturated fat that cheese inherently contains.

It's worth noting that saturated fat isn't completely "bad." In addition to it being generally considered acceptable to have a small percent of the fat in our diets come from saturated fat, in recent years science has discovered that saturated fat isn't nearly as problematic as once believed.

While an excess of saturated fat in one's diet can cause health problems, consuming a moderate amount of it does not lead to heart disease in the ways it was once thought to.

Knowing that, our choices for the healthiest types of cheeses are ones that do still contain this nutrient, as all cheeses do. The main qualifier is that these cheeses also have enough other nutritious components to make them healthful foods in general.

Let's look at some of healthier choices you can make when it comes to selecting cheese for your next meal or snack.

Probiotic Cheeses

Most cheeses undergo some amount of fermentation, but they do not all contain probiotics. Probiotics are tiny, beneficial organisms that live in our intestines. They are vital to our gut health and it's best to consume them from varied sources. Doing so helps you get the most diverse population of good bacteria possible to help fight against other gut bacteria that could cause harm, such as candida.

The following types of cheeses are high in probiotics:

  • Gouda
  • Cheddar
  • Cottage cheese
  • Feta

Gouda

A mild cheese that originated in the Netherlands, gouda offers numerous types of probiotics. This includes Lactobacillus rhamnosus HN001, which has been used to prevent post-partum depression and anxiety.

Gouda is available in several different forms, including smoked and aged.

Cheddar

In addition to important probiotics, cheddar packs in 20% of the RDA for calcium per serving.

It's one of America's most popular cheeses, used in everything from grilled cheese to burgers. Cheddar has a variety for nearly every cheese lover, ranging from mild to ultra sharp. The milder a cheddar, the easier it is to melt.

Cottage Cheese

Well known as a diet food, cottage cheese offers important vitamins like B12, as well as billions of probiotics per serving.

While many don't enjoy the taste of it plain, it's a wonderful base for recipes, such as this cottage cheese waffle. Cottage cheese has a tangy flavor, and is available in both small and large curd versions.

Feta

Traditionally made in Greece from sheep and goat milk, this crumbly cheese has grown exponentially in popularity in recent years. The probiotics it contains are considered anti-inflammatory.

Because it's made from sheep and goat milk, feta has higher amounts of certain nutrients, such as phosphorus, than cow dairy cheeses tend to.

High Protein-to-Fat Content Cheeses

Most cheeses are high in protein, with up to nearly eleven grams per ounce. (Though that's a general rule, there are exceptions to that, such as cream cheese, which has less than two grams per ounce.)

However, many cheeses also have a high fat content, containing up to 10 grams per ounce, about five or six of which may be saturated.

Some cheeses offer more protein with less fat, making them more healthful choices when looking for foods that have a better balance of macronutrients. Here are some top choices for cheeses that are high in protein, but are lower in fat.

Parmesan

With over eight grams of protein per ounce, parmesan cheese has only seven grams of fat. This cheese is a key component of Italian food, and is often grated to top dishes like pasta.

Parmesan cheese is available fresh in dairy cases, as well as freeze dried, making it shelf stable for grocery aisles. When purchased fresh, it can be crumbled or shaved, in addition to grated.

Romano

Romano looks somewhat similar to parmesan, but it has a stronger and saltier flavor. While parmesan is made with cow's milk, romano is made from sheep milk, which explains its farmier quality.

Romano has a little more protein than parmesan, at nine grams per ounce, and the same amount of fat, seven grams. Romano can be used in place of parmesan as a topping for Italian dishes when you want a more flavorful cheese.

Low-Fat Mozzarella

Mozzarella comes in a variety of forms, including full fat and nonfat, as well as higher and lower moisture.

The grated version commonly sold in bags is a lower moisture cheese, while fresh mozzarellas that's sold after being formed into balls and stored in water, like burrata, are higher in moisture.

One type, low-fat mozzarella—which is usually sold with lower moisture—has nearly twice as much protein as it does fat, at seven grams of protein per ounce and 4.5 grams of fat.

Jarlsberg

A type of Swiss cheese, jarlsberg looks similar to standard Swiss cheese in that it's light in color and has medium-sized holes throughout.

Jarlsberg has a nutty, slightly sweet flavor, and is used in dishes like cheese souffle. It's about equal in protein and fat content, with eight grams of fat and eight grams of protein per ounce.

Grass Fed Cheeses

Any cheese made from grass fed milk will offer certain benefits, such as higher omega-3 content and vitamin K2 than grain fed cheeses. Any cheese on this list can be bought grass fed, which will make it even more healthful.

Usually, brands will clearly note on the label that a cheese is made from grass fed milk.

As you can see, cheese can be a nutritious addition to your diet. The key is to consume cheese in moderation, and to choose cheeses that have important nutrients such as probiotics and a good amount of protein.

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