Ask me what my ultimate guilty pleasure is and up there with a bowl of pasta and glass of red wine, my answer would have to be cheese. But that’s the thing right there, in a world where we’re so obsessed with clean eating and dairy-free this and gluten-free that, we are wired to think of cheese as “bad”. However, as Sydney-based nutritionist Steph Wearne explains, cheese can play a part in a healthy balanced diet—and quite frankly, you don’t need to tell me twice. “The reason we want to limit cheese is mainly due to the fat content, sodium levels and any additives or preservatives that might be present,” shares Steph. “You want to consider the quality of the cheese but unless you are intolerant or can’t eat dairy for any medically diagnosed reason, then cheese can be enjoyed in moderation.”
Steph goes onto explain that cheese is a good source of protein, calcium, potassium, magnesium, riboflavin, B12 and other macronutrients. “Although often feared for its fat content, research in 2016 that looked into fat from dairy products is showing that it is not as big of a risk factor for heart disease as previously thought.” Now, before you go inhaling a whole wheel of brie, know that just like calories, not all cheeses are created equal. “Generally speaking, processed cheese products are the ones we should avoid, creamy soft cheeses are the ones we should limit most, and the other cheeses can be enjoyed in small portions (roughly 20-30g) a few times per week if desired.” Okay so 20-30g doesn’t exactly equate to the cheeseboard you’re most likely to devour on a Friday night, but hey, it’s better than nothing.
Steph advises checking the label and looking out for processed cheese products which can have added emulsifiers, food acids and preservatives. “Surprisingly, grated cheeses can also have the addition of anti-caking agents, so I prefer to buy a block and grate it myself.”
As cheese is naturally high in fat, Steph recommends opting for varieties with a higher protein content as well which will help maintain satiety. Haloumi, cottage cheese, ricotta and feta all get the nutritionist’s tick of approval: Haloumi: 6 g of protein per serve Cottage cheese: 12g of protein per serve Ricotta: 12g of protein per serve Feta: 6g of protein per serve
Parmesan is also another great option coming in at 10g of protein per serve, and as an aged/hard cheese, parmesan is also very low in lactose and can usually be tolerated by most people with an intolerance.
Oh, and studies show that eating this type of cheese before bed can actually help you lose weight. So there’s that, too.