Who doesn't love a good cheese board?? Unfortunately so many people steer clear of cheese because of its high fat content. So, in honor of the recent National Cheese Day, it’s the perfect time to ditch these rumors on cheese and explain how cheese is actually pretty healthy and doesn't have to be avoided!
I personally blame the “low fat” craze in the 90’s for giving cheese such a bad reputation. I know I mention it a lot but that FAT FREE CRAZE really did a number on the way Americans view food. In the case of our beloved cheese, it made everyone fearful of gaining weight from eating cheese.
Of course, you can always opt for cheese made from skim milk - but why would you when you can fit regular, decadent full fat or part skim cheese healthfully into your diet? With so many different varieties, textures and flavors, I don't know why you would want to keep avoiding it (unless it hurts your stomach or you have a milk allergy).
Sure, like every other food, too much of anything can lead to weight gain, but also just like every other food, cheese can easily fit into your diet. Cheese doesn't only provide us with good mouth feel (from the fat), but actually may have the highest antioxidant potential when compared to other dairies. If sheep’s milk is your favorite, you’ll be happy to learn that is contains the highest amount of unsaturated fatty acids, conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), and omega 3’s. Plus, cheese is an excellent source of calcium- and provides NO SUGAR. It also contains a lot of protein- primarily casein, which digests slowly, so some people like to have it before bed so they can help their muscles recover while they sleep. Yea, I know... You’re ALREADY about to go grab some cheese, but READ ON!
Here are some things to keep in mind when picking your cheese as well as some tasty ways to enjoy them:
As a rule of thumb: the harder the cheese, the higher in calories-and since the serving size is pretty small- about the size of two dice, it's easy to overindulge. Usually harder cheeses are over 100 calories per ounce, but as long as you are aware of your portion sizes these cheeses can easily fit into your diet without doing damage.
As a hard cheese ages, the more the flavor is able to develop. Since these cheeses are very flavorful, just a few shavings is all you need to truly indulge. In my opinion, hard cheeses are essential on any good cheese board. Thin slices of Manchego or Gruyere are great with dried fruit or slices of pear. And personally, I love a little shaved Parm on roasted asparagus or arugula salad. (My favorite)!
If your heart is set on finding a lower calorie cheese, you’ll likely have to limit the hard cheeses, but there are plenty of softer ones to chose from. Both feta and goat cheeses bring a nice tangy flavor with only about 75 calories per ounce. Both of these are on the softer side and are yummy additions to any salad or sandwich. If you’re in the mood for a sweet treat, goat cheese can be whipped with Greek yogurt and used as a spread on toast with sliced berries or peaches.
Brie is ~95 calories per ounce, and since it’s so creamy and rich, a little goes a long way. Or you can opt for partskim ricotta- ¼ cup of this smooth and creamy deliciousness is only 70 calories! It tastes great in savory or sweet recipes, or plain right out of the container. And last but not least, cottage cheese. Although many people associate this cheese as a “diet food” it really is so versatile. Due to its mild flavor and stellar nutritional profile, this cheese can easily be a meal on its own. In order to avoid unwanted added sugars, purchase the plain ones as opposed to the ones with “fruit” in it already. Try mixing a ½ cup cottage cheese with 4-5 Bing cherries and pistachios- you won’t feel like you’re eating “diet” food at all.
You may also consider opting for organic when it comes to cheeses. Like any dairy or meat product we want to try to aim for organic when we can. This way you can avoid dairy that has come from an animal treated with hormones or antibiotics.
So, go ahead and sprinkle some parm over your greens, enjoy some whipped ricotta with raw cacao and berries, put some goat cheese on that omelet and definitely enjoy those cheese boards at your next party! O, and do yourself a favor, leave the cheese guilt at the door!