The 10 Healthiest Types Of Cheese, According To A Dietitian

Contributing Health & Nutrition Editor By Stephanie Eckelkamp
Contributing Health & Nutrition Editor
Stephanie Eckelkamp is a writer and editor who has been working for leading health publications for the past 10 years. She received her B.S. in journalism from Syracuse University with a minor in nutrition.
Mediterranean Dish of Mozzarella, Tomatoes, Basil, Caprese

Image by Cameron Whitman / Stocksy

Cutting out cheese and dairy is often a part of elimination diets. But unless you have an allergy or sensitivity, real cheese—not funky processed cheese products—can be healthy and contribute real nutrition to your diet. 

"Cheese sometimes gets a bad rap because it is generally high in fat and certain types, like processed cheese, aren't the best picks because they may contain added oils, dyes, and even sugar," says Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN, author of Eating in Color. "But cheese can absolutely add nutrients, like protein and calcium, to your diet, and it's incredibly satisfying. I like to enjoy a small wedge with fresh grapes and some almonds. You can think of cheese as a garnish too—you don't need much to boost a meal." 

Cheese is typically made by heating milk, adding an enzyme and starter culture to separate the curds from the whey, then aging the cheese for a specific period of time. The nutrition content of a cheese—and whether or not you'll tolerate it—often depends on how it was made. 

For example, the more time a cheese spends aging, the less lactose it contains because it's converted to lactic acid. Aged and cultured cheeses also contain at least some probiotics, and cheese made with full-fat milk from grass-fed cows provides more omega-3 fatty acids and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA)—two healthy fats with anti-inflammatory properties.  

Each variety of cheese is also slightly different in terms of nutrition. Here, with the help of registered dietitians, we break down 10 of the healthiest cheeses you can buy.

Goat cheese

Goat cheese (aka chèvre) is known for its distinct tangy flavor. While most people think of the soft, spreadable variety, there's actually a wide spectrum of goat cheeses—from soft and fresh to hard aged types like Crottin de Chavignol, which have a stronger flavor, says Largeman-Roth. 

Compared to cow's milk, goat's milk has less lactose, which means it could be a good option for those with lactose intolerance or sensitivities, says Jess Cording, R.D., mbg Collective member and author of The Little Book of Game-Changers. It also contains a type of protein called A2 casein, which, according to recent research, may be less likely to cause gastrointestinal discomfort than the proteins in cow's milk. 

Goat cheese also has a surprising amount of vitamin A, which has antioxidant properties and supports the immune system, with a serving containing about 10% of the RDA

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Nutrition (per 1-ounce serving)

  • Calories: 108 calories
  • Fat: 9 g 
  • Protein: 7 g
  • Sodium: 190 mg 
  • Carbs: 0 g
  • Calcium: 200 mg

Mozzarella

Mozzarella, which is typically made from cow's milk or Italian buffalo's milk, can be surprisingly good for you—despite its association with pizza. While aged cheeses come with their own set of benefits, fresh cheeses with high moisture content like mozzarella often have the added benefit of being a bit lower in sodium. Mozzarella also contains about 15% of the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of calcium in a serving. 

For mozzarella, and most fresh cheeses, it's worth springing for high quality, says Cording: Think made with milk from grass-fed cows.

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Nutrition (per 1-ounce serving)

  • Calories: 80 
  • Fat: 6 g
  • Protein: 6 g
  • Sodium: 150 mg
  • Carbs: 1 g
  • Calcium: 150 mg

Ricotta

Creamy ricotta is a soft, fresh Italian cheese that's traditionally made from the remnants of other cheeses. Basically, cheesemakers make some type of cheese with their cheese curds, then they repurpose the remaining whey to make ricotta. 

This means that, compared to other cheeses, ricotta is quite rich in whey protein—one of the most easily absorbed and utilized forms of protein, which has been shown to aid in muscle growth and strength, thanks to its high concentration of certain amino acids like leucine.  

Like mozzarella and other fresh cheeses, ricotta also tends to be lower in sodium, and it contains a decent amount of calcium, with about 25% of the RDA in a serving. 

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Nutrition (per 1/2-cup serving)

  • Calories: 186 calories
  • Fat: 13 g
  • Protein: 9 g 
  • Sodium: 136 mg
  • Carbs: 9 g
  • Calcium: 255 mg

Parmesan

Another Italian favorite, Parmesan is a hard aged cheese made from cow's milk with a rich, umami flavor and somewhat granular texture. Parmesan produced in Italy must age a minimum of one year to have its rind stamped Parmigiano-Reggiano, while most U.S.-made versions typically age at least 10 months. 

If you have issues digesting lactose, Parmesan can be a great choice—and the longer it ages, the better: "Aged cheese is much lower in lactose, so many people who can't tolerate liquid milk or soft cheese can eat aged cheeses with no issue," says Largeman-Roth. 

Parmesan is also high in protein and the bone-building nutrients calcium and phosphorus, containing about 30% of the RDA for both in one serving. One caveat: It's a bit high in sodium—but a little goes a very long way.

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Nutrition (per 1-ounce serving)

  • Calories: 111 calories
  • Fat: 7 g
  • Protein: 10 g
  • Sodium: 333 mg
  • Carbs: 1 g
  • Calcium: 336 mg

Cheddar cheese

Originating in England, and perhaps the most popular cheese on the planet, cheddar cheese is made from cow's milk and ranges from mild to extra sharp in flavor. Sharp varieties undergo a lengthier aging process, so cheddar is another potentially good option for people who are lactose intolerant, says Cording.  

Cheddar typically contains a decent amount of vitamin K2 as well, which is essential for keeping calcium out of soft tissues like those surrounding the heart, so it can be used appropriately (to build strong bones, etc.). Deficiencies in vitamin K2 are relatively common, as it's not found in many foods, but full-fat dairy is generally a good source. 

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Nutrition (per 1-ounce serving)

  • Calories: 114 calories
  • Fat:  9 g
  • Protein: 7 g 
  • Sodium: 185 mg 
  • Carbs: 1 g
  • Calcium: 201 mg

Swiss

Originating in Switzerland, Swiss cheese is a semi-hard cheese made from cow's milk with a nutty, mildly funky taste. Fun fact: Its signature holes are a result of carbon dioxide being released by bacteria during the aging process. 

Swiss cheese tends to be lower in sodium than most other cheeses and high in calcium, with just one ounce packing 25% of the RDA. But what really sets it apart is its high levels of vitamin B12, a nutrient that's crucial for the health of your nerves, red blood cells, and DNA.

Nutrition (per 1-ounce serving)

  • Calories: 111 calories
  • Fat: 9 g
  • Protein: 8 g 
  • Sodium: 53 mg
  • Carbs: 0.5 g
  • Calcium: 252 mg

Cottage cheese

Cottage cheese is a fresh cheese made from cow's milk consisting of loose curds. Like mozzarella, it doesn't undergo an aging process to develop flavor, so it's quite mild. It's also a protein powerhouse: "Cottage cheese is a fantastic source of protein at up to 15 g of protein per half-cup," says Largeman-Roth. "And several brands contain live active probiotic strains." (Look for "cultured cottage cheese" if probiotics are your goal.)

Keep in mind, cottage cheese does tend to be a bit higher in sodium, but low-sodium options are available if that's a concern.

Nutrition (per 1/2-cup)

  • Calories: 100 calories
  • Fat: 2.5 g 
  • Protein: 14 g 
  • Sodium: 390 mg
  • Carbs: 4 g
  • Calcium: 200 mg (20% DV)

Quark

Relatively new to the cheese scene in the U.S., quark is a soft, cultured cheese hailing from Germany. It's made like other cheeses, but during the curdling phase, it's continually stirred to give it a creamy texture. Quark is somewhat similar to plain Greek yogurt or Icelandic skyr in texture and flavor, but it's a bit less tart. Depending on its moisture level, quark can be eaten with a spoon (like yogurt) or used as more of a spread. 

Because quark is cultured, it can be a good source of probiotics. It's also high in protein, with 13 grams per half-cup serving. Compared to other cheeses, quark is a bit higher in carbs—so if you're on a low-carb or keto diet, take note.

Nutrition (per 1/2-cup serving)

  • Calories: 100 calories
  • Fat: 0 g 
  • Protein: 13 g 
  • Sodium: 30 mg
  • Carbs: 12 g 
  • Calcium: 100 mg

Blue cheese

Sure, blue cheese may be an acquired taste, but before you write off this creamy, funky, mold-striped cheese, you should know that it packs quite the nutritional punch. Compared to other cheeses, blue cheese (particularly the Stilton variety) has even higher levels of vitamin K2 than cheddar. Vitamin K2 is the vitamin that helps keep calcium from building up in soft tissues surrounding the heart so it can be used to build strong bones and power other bodily processes. 

Speaking of strong bones, blue cheese is also a good source of calcium, containing about 150 mg per ounce, or 15% of the RDA. It's a bit higher in sodium than some of these other varieties, but a little blue cheese goes a long way, so you probably won't overdo it.

Nutrition (per 1-ounce serving)

  • Calories: 100 calories
  • Fat: 6 g
  • Protein: 6 g 
  • Sodium: 325 mg
  • Carbs: 1 g
  • Calcium: 150 mg

Feta

Just a little bit of feta is one of the best ways to add a big punch of flavor to your salads, grain bowls, and omelets. This Mediterranean staple is typically made of sheep and/or goat cheese that's been molded into a brick and then soaked in a salty brine. And while it is a bit high in sodium, a little feta goes a long way. Compared to other cheeses, feta is lower in calories, which might make it appealing for some. It also contains around 14% of the RDA for calcium.

Pro tip: "Greek feta is always the most expensive, so I usually buy Bulgarian feta, which is about $5 cheaper per pound," says Largeman-Roth.

Nutrition (per 1-ounce serving)

  • Calories: 75 calories
  • Fat: 6 g 
  • Protein: 4 g 
  • Sodium: 323 mg
  • Carbs: 1 g
  • Calcium: 140 mg

The bottom line on cheese as a health food.

Most nutrition experts agree that cheese can be a part of a healthy diet, contributing big flavor along with some protein, calcium, and other key nutrients like vitamins A and K2—depending on the type. And while the cheese varieties mentioned above have some standout qualities that make them extra deserving of a spot on your charcuterie board, you can feel good about almost any cheese provided it's made from high-quality ingredients (think organic, grass-fed milk) and you enjoy it in moderation. 

Ready to learn how to fight inflammation and address autoimmune disease through the power of food? Join our 5-Day Inflammation Video Summit with mindbodygreen’s top doctors.

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