How to Pick the Healthiest Cheese on the Shelf, According to an RD

There’s a cheese for almost every diet and health concern.

There are some ingredients—kale, for one—that tout an apparent health halo. But most foods are all about balance. Cheese is the perfect example: It's deliciously indulgent (ahem, high in saturated fat) but also has a heavy hit of protein, phosphorus, and calcium. The key (to almost everything in life, cheese included) is moderation.

But choosing the right cheese is what makes moderation work, which might mean picking a cheese that is packed with great flavor (so you feel satisfied without having to polish off the entire platter). So how can you pick the healthiest cheese to eat? Sharon Richter, RD helped us break down the healthiest cheeses for every person and palette. No matter your taste preferences or dietary restrictions, there's a delicious dairy product (and some important health advice) here for you.

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Snack on Flavorful Aged Cheeses

"I tell my clients that if they want to mindfully indulge, make the flavor count! For example, I encourage them to add aged cheeses into their favorite dishes because their flavors are stronger, sharper, and fuller-bodied, so you don't need as much to get a lot of flavor impact. This makes portion control easier as well," says Richter. To that end, it may be easiest to think of cheese as an ingredient that'll punch up the flavor of dishes, like soups or salads, rather than a standalone snack.

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Shop for Cheeses With Low Sodium

Salt (and therefore sodium) plays an important role in cheese making because it controls moisture, texture, taste, functionality, and food safety. So, while salt can't be completely eliminated, some cheeses require less than others, and lower-sodium cheeses are also available.

As a rule of thumb, remember this tip: Softer, less-aged cheeses typically require less salt than harder, aged varieties. Richter recommends Swiss, Monterey Jack, ricotta, or Parmesan (like Sartori's SarVecchio). "It's fruity with hints of lightly roasted caramel, aged to crumbly perfections, and made by Wisconsin Master Cheesemakers. Big on flavor, not on salt!" she says.

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Choose Naturally Low-Fat Varieties

If you're watching your daily fat intake, opt for Parmesan or part-skim mozzarella. "You can also try lower-fat options like cottage cheese, ricotta, and cheddar, but avoid any processed 'reduced fat' cheese products. They're likely making up for that fat reduction in other areas and boosting preservatives," Richter says. At the end of the day, you want to look for cheeses with the most wholesome ingredients—your body knows how to process those best, too.

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Pick High-Protein and Calcium-Rich Options

Good news: The dairy group is the number two top source of dietary calcium for Americans. To boost your calcium and protein intake the most, check out cottage cheese or parmesan. Other high protein options include Swiss, cheddar, gouda, ricotta, mozzarella, or Colby. You can also substitute quark cheese for Greek yogurt to pump up your protein even more.

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Consume Cheese With Low Levels of Lactose

Natural cheeses such as cheddar, Colby, Monterey Jack, mozzarella, and Swiss contain minimal amounts of lactose because most of the lactose is removed when the curds are separated from the whey in the cheesemaking process. As a visual reminder of a serving size of cheese, remember that 1 ½ ounces look about the same size as four dice-size cubes.

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