You’ve probably heard the motto, “everything in moderation.” This, of course, applies to all foods and (unfortunately) includes cheese. As a dietitian, member of a family that owned a cheese store in New York City, and wholehearted cheese lover, I know that sometimes you just can’t get enough of this beloved dairy food. However, most cheeses are higher in saturated fat and sodium, which isn’t the best choice if you have high cholesterol. That said, if you have concerns about your cholesterol, this doesn’t mean that cheese should be off your menu.
Many kinds of cheese tend to be higher in fat and cholesterol per ounce, like Parmesan or blue cheese. The good news is that these cheeses also tend to be rich and highly flavorful, so you don’t need a lot to enjoy your fill! One shredded or crumbled tablespoon of these highly flavorful cheeses is really all you need to up the “wow” factor of your dish. However, if you’re looking for a cheese to eat daily and enjoy in larger portions—especially if you have high cholesterol—below you’ll find six choices that, according to dietitians, are better options. Then, after learning which cheeses are better options to eat when you have high cholesterol, you can find out which cheeses are generally healthier picks across the board by also reading Our Guide to the Best Healthy Cheeses.
“I always tell my clients of all ages that cheese is an amazing additive to the diet because it has protein, which helps build muscle mass, and calcium and vitamin D helps build and maintain bones through the lifespan,” explains Jim White, RDN, ACSM EX-P, owner of Jim White Fitness and Nutrition Studios.
White’s go-to cheese is mozzarella, which is low in saturated fat, with only 3 grams of it. Best of all, mozzarella only contains 15 milligrams of cholesterol, which is especially low compared to many other types of cheese.
Cheryl Mussatto MS, RD, LD, a clinical dietitian at Cotton O’Neil Cardiac Rehab in Topeka, KS, and author of The Nourished Brain, also loves mozzarella cheese—but prefers to opt for the fresh, part-skim kind.
“This tasty cheese provides beneficial active cultures, such as Lactobacillus, which is great for gut health,” Mussatto says. “[It] also helps reduce inflammation, which is ideal for blood vessels and heart health.”
Mussatto adds that she loves her mozzarella in a Caprese salad as well as in a spinach and cheese frittata.
Sauceda also recommends choosing cultured cottage cheese to get the benefit of live, active cultures for your gut microbiome, which research suggests is linked to heart health.
Leslie Bonci, MPH, RDN, CSSD, LDN, FAND, owner of Active Eating Advice by Leslie Bonci, recommends feta cheese with “only 25 milligrams of cholesterol per ounce and lower in saturated fat (3 grams) compared to most cheeses.” Plus, Bonci says that feta’s rich taste means a little goes a long way; you can use less of it overall in your dishes, but still enjoy a fabulous flavor to savor. Perk up salads with crumbled feta, pair with fruit, or add some produce to the plate by mixing feta in with fresh cherry tomatoes.
Another cheese Bonci recommends is part-skim ricotta because it provides “19 milligrams of cholesterol per 1/4 cup and 3.5 grams of saturated fat, making it lower than other cheeses.” Bonci explains that part-skim ricotta provides a creamy mouthfeel, which makes it a great add-in for pasta in place of heavy cream. Also, because ricotta is spreadable, it can be used in celery sticks instead of cream cheese to increase the protein and reduce the total fat and saturated fat.
A few ways Bonci enjoys using ricotta include on a ricotta board topped with veggies and olives or whipped with berries for a delicious creamy dessert that is lower in saturated fat compared to ice cream.
“Individuals with high cholesterol should look to lower their saturated fat intake, and you can do that by choosing low-fat string cheese like part-skim mozzarella and 2% cheddar and colby jack varieties,” says Amy Goodson, MS, RD, CSSD, LD, the author of the Sports Nutrition Playbook and member of our Medical Expert Board.
Most string cheeses contain 70–80 calories and only about 5 grams of total fat (3 grams saturated) per serving, making them an excellent pick. Plus, string cheese is individually packaged, so you can eat the proper portion size of cheese without worrying about overdoing it.