Can you eat cheese if you are following a low-saturated-fat diet?
Advertisement
figs on toast

If you are a cheese lover, living your life without enjoying a sharp Cheddar or a creamy Brie simply won't do. From the unique taste and the craveable consistency to the satisfying way it can melt over pizza or a pasta dish, it isn't hard to understand why so many people love this classic dairy food.

Pictured Recipe: Fig & Ricotta Toast

But suppose you are managing diabetes, heart disease or other conditions that require you to limit your saturated fat intake. In that case, you may wonder if you can enjoy any cheese on your diet without sidelining your health goals. While cheese is packed with important nutrients that support our overall health, including calcium and protein, many varieties can contain large amounts of saturated fat too, a type of fat that, when consumed in excess, is linked to some unsavory health outcomes, like elevated LDL ("bad") cholesterol, per a 2018 review published in Current Nutrition Reports.

The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that calories consumed from saturated fat should be limited to less than 10% of total daily calories. And the American Heart Association recommends that people stick to an even lower threshold, limiting saturated fat to only 5% to 6% of calories.

For people who eat around 2,000 calories a day, following the AHA's guidelines would mean no more than 120 calories should come from saturated fat. This value equates to about 13 grams of saturated fat every day.

Can You Eat Cheese When Limiting Your Saturated Fat Intake?

Many varieties of cheese are indeed high in saturated fat, with varieties like Cheddar, Muenster and blue containing well over 5 grams of saturated fat per ounce, or approximately 40% of the daily allotment of this nutrient per the AHA guidelines. But cheese doesn't have to be banished from your heart-healthy or diabetes-friendly diet, as long as your portion sizes are appropriate and you are eating your cheese as a part of an overall balanced and healthy diet.

Once upon a time, cheese was labeled as a "bad" food for many people with health concerns. But as research emerges, we learn that, because of the calcium, bioactive lipids and peptides that cheese contains, eating it may help support heart health. In fact, 2020 data published in Foods suggests that, instead of avoiding dairy-fat sources like cheese, a more appropriate recommendation is to moderately consume full-fat dairy foods within a healthy lifestyle.

Just keep in mind that many varieties of cheese, regardless of their saturated fat content, have large amounts of sodium. For people with conditions including diabetes, high blood pressure and kidney disease, sodium intake may need to be limited to avoid adverse health outcomes.

But if you want to stick to options with low saturated fat content, here are six to keep on hand for the next time a cheese craving strikes.

Best Low-Saturated-Fat Cheeses

Fat-Free Swiss Cheese

Fat-free Swiss cheese contains, as the name implies, zero grams of fat. Because of the lack of fat, this cheese variety is typically lower in calories than its full-fat counterpart as well. Just remember that because of the lack of fat, this variety of cheese may not be the best choice if you are hoping for it to melt, as it may not perform as well as the OG version. But for a quick sandwich addition or a simple snack choice, fat-free Swiss cheese can fit the bill.

Cottage Cheese with 2% Milkfat

Cottage cheese can be a fantastic addition to a fruit salad, pasta dishes and even as a topping for a baked potato. And for cheese lovers who want to limit their saturated fat, it can be a welcome addition to their diet. According to the USDA, one 100-gram serving (about 3.5 ounces) of this cheese contains a bit more than 1 gram of saturated fat.

Enjoy cottage cheese in a satisfying Quinoa Lasagna or Cottage Cheese with Raspberry Honey.

Part-Skim Ricotta Cheese

For a creamy addition to a slew of dishes, part-skim ricotta cheese certainly fits the bill. With smaller curds than cottage cheese and a fresh cheesy taste, this cheese can be just as satisfying as cheeses that are equally delicious but contain significantly more saturated fat. One ounce of part-skim ricotta cheese has 1.4 grams of saturated fat, per the USDA. Our Ricotta & Yogurt Parfait and Cannellini Bean & Herbed Ricotta Toast are two delicious ways to enjoy this low-fat cheese.

Part-Skim Mozzarella

Because it's made with milk partially skimmed of its fat, part-skim mozzarella has less saturated fat than its full-fat counterpart while still being delightful to eat. Part-skim mozzarella typically melts well, so it can be used to make a homemade pizza or a cheesy egg dish. One ounce of part-skim mozzarella cheese contains 2.8 grams of saturated fat, making it a better choice for people who are limiting their intake of this fat. Try part-skim mozzarella cheese in a Cheesy Spinach-Zucchini Lasagna or Air-Fryer Mozzarella Sticks.

Neuchâtel Cheese

For a soft and spreadable cheese, Neufchâtel cheese can be a nice alternative to higher-fat cream cheese for those limiting their saturated fat intake. One ounce of this cheese contains 3.6 grams of saturated fat (versus 5.1 grams found in 1 ounce of regular cream cheese). You can use Neufchâtel cheese in many recipes that traditionally use cream cheese. Taste this Cheesy Vegetable Bake or these Nutty Pimiento Cheese Balls

The Bottom Line

If you are a cheese lover focused on keeping your saturated fat intake low, know that you can still enjoy your beloved dairy food and still stick to your diet goals. As long as you stick to choices containing less saturated fat and eat appropriate portion sizes, you should be A-OK. And if you can't live without varieties that are traditionally higher in saturated fat (we're looking at you, Cheddar), exploring dairy-free cheese alternatives may help satisfy your craving in a low-saturated-fat way.

So, feel free to enjoy a shmear of Neufchâtel on your whole-grain bagel or add a slice of part-skim mozzarella cheese to your turkey sandwich. Doing so won't completely derail your diet and will add some serious enjoyment to your dishes.