5 tips for choosing a better cheese

Cheese. Some love it, some hate it. But you can’t deny that it’s on a roll. Since 1970, we’ve nearly tripled how much we eat. And it’s not just in the dishes where you’d typically see cheese, like pizza and quesadillas. It’s on salads, sandwiches, pasta, on top of vegetables, you name it.

Want a cheese that delivers the goods (flavor, protein, calcium) with the least bads (calories, saturated fat, salt)? Check out these 5 tips.

1. Watch the serving size.

When comparing labels, watch out for:

  • Slice vs. block. Cheeses that come sliced may look lower in calories, saturated fat, and sodium because their labels list a smaller serving (usually a 3/4 oz. slice) than blocks or shredded cheese (1 oz.).
  • Skinny slices. It’s not easy to tell whether really skinny slices like Kraft Slim Cut or Sargento Ultra Thin are better or worse than ordinary slices because the slims’ and thins’ labels show both a 1-slice (about 1/3 ­oz.) and a 3-slice (about 1 ­oz.) serving. It comes down to how many slices you use and whether the cheese is reduced-fat (like Kraft Slim Cut) or full-fat (like Sargento Ultra Thin).

2. Look for sat fat steals.

Ignore the man-bites-dog headlines. Saturated fat still raises LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and the risk of heart disease. Solution: eat less cheese…or look for products that have no more than 3 grams of saturated fat per serving—roughly half what you’d get in full-fat cheese. They’re usually labeled “lite,” “2% milk,” “50% less fat,” “reduced fat,” or “part-skim.”

Bonus: many cheeses that are lower in sat fat are also lower in calories. An ounce of Cabot Sharp Light Cheddar, for example, supplies 8 grams of protein and 20 percent of a day’s calcium for 70 calories. An ounce of the company’s full-fat Vermont Sharp Cheddar (with roughly the same protein and calcium) will cost you 110 calories. Why do most fresh mozzarellas have 3 grams of sat fat or less even though they’re full fat? It’s because they contain more water than regular mozzarella (or most other cheeses).

3. Keep an eye on salt.

Looking for less sodium? Swiss cheese (many have 40 to 60 ­milligrams of sodium per ounce) and fresh mozzarella (typically 80 ­to 100­ mg) are naturally lower than other types. Try to choose cheeses with no more than 200 ­mg of sodium per serving.

Tip: Skip Kraft fat-free shredded cheeses. Ounce for ounce, they have about 100 mg more sodium (280 mg) than shredded lower-fat cheeses from Horizon Organic, Sargento, Trader Joe’s, and Kraft’s 2% Milk line.

4. Watch out for non-dairy cheeses with little or no protein or calcium.

Most dairy-free (vegan) cheeses are nearly protein-free, with 0 or 1 gram per ounce instead of cheese’s usual 5 to 8 grams. That’s because they’re mostly water, oil (coconut, canola, palm, or soybean), and starches.

Exception: Treeline Aged Treenut Cheeses get 5 grams of protein per ounce from cashews. And many non-vegan “cheese alternatives”—like Go Veggie Lactose Free or Trader Joe’s Almond Mozzarella Style Shreds—add enough casein (a milk protein) to reach 6 grams of protein per ounce. But only Go Veggie consistently adds calcium. Most Field Roast, Follow Your Heart, and Treeline have zip.

5. Watch the claims.

You can ignore most of them. Almost all cheese is made with “simple” ingredients and has “no added sugar.” Most hard cheeses are lactose-free—or close to it. (Lactose is milk sugar, so check the “Sugars” line on the Nutrition Facts label.) And any cheese that isn’t processed (like Kraft Singles) can call itself “natural.”

Here are a few of our favorite cheeses. What would you add to this list?

BelGioioso: a 70-calorie snack that makes us smile.
Trader Joe’s rich, flavorful cheddar has just over our recommended 200 mg of sodium.
Cabot Sharp Light isn’t quite as sharp as Trader Joe’s cheddar.
Try it with a handful of cherry tomatoes. M-m-m.
The best-tasting lower-fat swiss? Jarlsberg Lite. Period.
Lower-fat mozz that would do any pizza proud.



















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14 Replies to “5 tips for choosing a better cheese”

  1. We normally eat cheddar cheese and a lot of it – like 5 oz. at a time. When comparing 5 oz. of cheddar cheese to 5 oz. of steak, cheddar cheese has about 6 times as much saturated fat as steak! Now we buy only grated cheddar and keep a 1/4 cup measuring cup in the bag to keep our servings to 1 oz.

  2. I would like to get the free NA tips but don’t want to subscribe to the newsletter because I found it hard to access. But when I tried to sign up for the free one it seemed to me that it was pushing me to subscribe to the newsletter. Are the tips really free or are they just free if you subscribe to the newsletter?

    1. Hi Susie, we generally recommend that cheeses have no more than 3 grams of saturated fat and 200 milligrams of sodium per serving. We also recommend that they have at least 10 percent of the Daily Value for calcium and 5 grams of protein. Some examples of cheeses we found that meet these criteria included Sargento Reduced Fat or regular Provolone, Trader Joe’s Lite Provolone, and Alpine Lace 25% Reduced Fat Provolone.

  3. Please comment on goat cheese for lactose free cheeses or any other regular cheeses that truly have no lactose. Found in Canada!

  4. I love smoked Gouda cheese. It is high in vitamin k2 also
    That and Colby Jack
    3 pounds each a month are a must even on my limited Soc. Sec.

  5. Some of the favorite brands have to be terrible. Kraft is owned by Phillip Morris and they are certain to have deceptive labeling. Vegetarians have the right to know that all listed cheeses are made with enzymes that come from slaughterhouses. Organic cheeses are made with microbial enzymes so they are vegetarian.

  6. why do you mix grams with ounces? My head hurts trying to understand! As in grams of protein per ounce of cheese.
    Margaret in Canada…where we actually do use both systems, just not together.

  7. Too bad almost all of the foods you ever rate are packaged processed food. Try doing some comparisons of real food. I. E. Hard goat cheese vs soft, emmenthal. Sheep cheese

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