Cheese is not necessarily unhealthy and can even fit into a weight-loss plan, Heather Mangieri, MS, RD, CSSD, creator of Nutrition CheckUp.com, tells The Huffington Post. "Cheese helps deliver key nutrients that the body needs, like protein," she says. Women and men should consume about 46 and 56 grams of protein a day, respectively, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And cheese can be an excellent source of protein -- 4 ounces of low-fat cottage cheese contains 13 grams of the stuff, and a slice of Swiss has about 7.5 grams, according to the U.S Department of Agriculture.
Still, there are a few things you should know if you're going to incorporate cheese into a nutritious eating plan. Here are four things to keep in mind:
You don't have to say 'no' to full-fat.
Adults should have around three cups of low-fat dairy a day, according to MyPlate guidelines, which includes cheese. However, Mangieri recommends a rough guideline of about 1 ounce of full-fat cheese a day. Ultimately, the amount of cheese you eat and how much fat it contains really depends on the rest of your diet. This is particularly true for vegetarians who may be looking to get more protein from dairy products.
Greasiness isn't necessarily unhealthy.
What about all that grease that we pat off our pizza? Is melted cheese less nutritious? It certainly looks more indulgent. But really, "the cheese is just melting," Mangieri says. "It doesn't make it less healthy when it is cooked. When you are eating a piece of mozzarella [that hasn't been melted] you are still eating the fat, you just can't see it as easily."
There's no "best" cheese.
It all comes down to personal preference when it comes to cheese variety, says Mangieri. If you totally adore American cheese, go for it -- even those processed slices can provide a dose of protein. Just be mindful about what else is in your favorite cheese. Even though certain artisanal cheeses may have fewer preservatives, they can still have a high amount of fat or sodium, for example.
Cheese can contain a lot of sodium.
Speaking of sodium -- cheese can pack a punch. Adults typically need just 180 to 500 milligrams of sodium a day but should get no more than 2,300, according to the CDC. That's the equivalent of just a teaspoon of salt, according to the American Heart Association. Yikes!
A slice of cheddar cheese clocks in at 174 milligrams of sodium, while a slice of American has 351 milligrams. Neither will break the sodium bank, but keep in mind that's just one slice. Some cheeses are naturally much lower in sodium, like Parmesan, which contains just 76 milligrams of sodium per grated tablespoon. Moral of the sodium story? There is a lot of variation between cheeses, so be aware of how much sodium is in the specific type you are eating.
The bottom line when it comes to cheese: Enjoy it -- wisely! "The key is moderation," says Mangieri. "I know that's an overused term, but it is important." We couldn't agree more.