Here’s the thing about cheese: A teeny, tiny portion adds up to quite a lot of calories. And as a result, those who are looking to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight are cautioned against eating it. While most dieters often fear the gouda, cheese can actually be kinda healthy in terms of its calcium and protein content. (In moderation, that is!)
From the string cheese your mom packed in your lunch as a kid to more decadent Swiss spreads you can pair with a glass of wine, these top picks aren’t half bad for your bod. In moderation, that is. Get cheesy with it and then find out the 20 Healthy Foods You Better Not Overeat.
Quinn Organic Microwave Popcorn: Parmesan & Rosemary
Three cups popped: 170 calories, 10 g fat, 1 g sat fat, 170 mg sodium, 17 g carbs, 3 g fiber, 0 g sugar, 4 g protein
Although most microwave popcorns should be avoided, this organic, clean version from Quinn is surprisingly healthy. The “Pure Pop Bag” that the popcorn comes in is made from compostable paper and is sans all chemical coatings, metalized plastic heating elements and preservatives. As a result, it doesn’t come with a huge list of added health concerns. This parmesan-laced snack also provides a small amount of fiber, which most cheese options on this list are lacking. We’re pumped about this microwave popcorn option since eating microwave popcorn is usually a 40 Habits That Make You Sick and Fat!
Cabot Seriously Sharp Cheddar Cheese Serious Snacking Packs
One ¾ oz bar serving: 80 calories, 7 g fat, 4.5 g sat fat, 130 mg sodium, <1 g carbs, 0 g fiber, 0 g sugar, 5 g protein
About 30 g of cheddar cheese contains 240 mg of calcium; one and a half of these yummy bars will get you there. Why you should care: The amount of calcium your body needs to support bone health changes through different stages of life. The Institute of Medicine of the US National Academy of Sciences recommends that women ages 19-50 aim for 1,000 mg daily, increasing that number to 1,200 mg after the age of 50. For men ages 19-70, the IOM says to aim for 1,000 mg daily, increasing that to 1,200 after the age of 70. Ladies, keep your efforts in check and find out the 30 Flat-Belly Mistakes That Women Make.
Rhythm Superfoods Zesty Nacho Kale Chips
1 oz serving: 140 calories, 7 g fat, 0.5 g sat fat, 190 mg sodium, 12 g carbs, 3 g fiber, 3 g sugar, 6 g protein
While they may not contain any trace of real cheese, these cheesy-flavored kale chips still kill off the craving. Smith recommends them as a super-healthy alternative to dairy-containing products. Though your skepticism may lead you to believe otherwise, the green-based chips actually do offer up a cheesy flavor, and if you didn’t know it, you’d think they were seasoned with the real thing. To achieve that cheese-like flavor, they use a blend of organic seeds, vegetable powders, juices, herbs, and spices. And if you love kale or just want to up your game, try these 20 Fresh Tips for How to Cook Kale!
Mini Babybel Original
One wheel: 70 calories, 6 g fat, 4 g sat fat, 160 mg sodium, 0 g carbs, 0 g fiber, 0 g sugar, 5 g protein
The most important rule when it comes to cheese is: Stick to one portion. As a calorie dense food, it can be really easy to scarf down two, three or even five servings in a matter of minutes! Thankfully, there exist perfect, pre-portioned cheese snacks like these mini Babybels to help you out, which are only 70 calories a pop. Smith recommends sticking to one ounce or one single cheese stick (one mini wheel in this case) to keep calories under wraps.
Mini Babybel Light
One wheel: 50 calories, 3 g fat, 2 g sat fat, 160 mg sodium, 0 g carbs, 0 g fiber, 0 g sugar, 6 g protein
While any Mini Babybel flavor is a great pick—thanks to the single serve portions—grab a light wheel if your biggest concern is saturated fat intake. Mini Babybel Light has half the total fat content versus the original version, boasting only 2 grams of saturated fat per serving, yet still containing as much protein as an egg. (Psst! Check out What Happens to Your Body When You Eat Eggs!)
Organic Valley Stringles Low Moisture Part Skim Mozzarella
1 stick: 80 calories, 6 g fat, 3.5 g sat fat, 210 mg sodium, 0 g carbs, 0 g fiber, 0 g sugar, 7 g protein
Smith points out that Mozzarella and other fresher (i.e. lower in salt) cheeses are typically healthier and lower in saturated fat. These Stringles not only trigger nostalgia, but they’re a low-calorie snack, that’s high in protein and easy to eat on the run.
Sargento Natural Reduced Sodium Colby-Jack Cheese Snacks
1 piece: 80 calories, 7 g fat, 4.5 g sat fat, 105 mg sodium, <1 g carbs, 0 g fiber, 0 g sugar, 5 g protein
While most cheeses may appear more or less the same when it comes to nutrition, there’s a way to tell by looking at the label which options are better for you than others. “When comparing two kinds of cheese, look for the one lower in saturated fat and also the one lower in sodium,” advises Smith. These sticks have nearly two-thirds the amount of sodium versus other cheese stick options and contain close to one-third the amount of sodium in one serving of cottage cheese. Many people like cottage cheese in the morning, but for more ideas, take a cue from these 15 Healthy Breakfast Ideas: 5 Minutes, 5 Ingredients!
Horizon Organic Colby Cheese Shapes
¼ cup serving: 110 calories, 9 g fat, 5 g sat fat, 170 mg sodium, 1 g carbs, 0 g fiber, 0 g sugar, 7 g protein
When it comes to choosing the best cheese, you’ve got to consider what your overall goal is. “It’s all about what someone is looking to cheese for. If calcium is a major concern, then it matters more for that person. Most servings of cheese seem to be around 200 mg per serving; a standard glass of milk is about 300 mg for reference,” says Smith. So if you’re looking to up your calcium intake, put a premium on calcium content by choosing a cheese with a higher percentage of calcium on the label. If your diet is lacking in protein, then focus more on picking wedges with higher amounts of protein.
Harvest Snaps Snapea Crisps, Caesar
22 pieces: 120 calories, 5 g fat, 0.5 g sat fat, 65 mg sodium, 16 g carbs, 3 g fiber, 1 g sugar, 5 g protein
Certain salads have the ability to be very healthy, but ones coated in creamy caesar dressing don’t exactly earn that title. A staple of Caesar salads is the parmesan cheese that’s sprinkled on top. Yum, right? These crispy little peas give you that same flavor, but without all the unhealthy consequences. Parmesan cheese, Romano cheese, and bleu cheese all appear on the ingredient list here, but what’s missing is the saturated fat and high-calorie count the classic Caesar dressing contains.
Moon Cheese, Cheddar
6-7 pieces: 70 calories, 5 g fat, 3 g sat fat, 140 mg sodium, 1 g carbs, 0 g fiber, 0 g sugar, 5 g protein
What on earth is Moon Cheese you ask? Moon Cheese is simply whole, real cheese that’s been stripped of its moisture. And to be honest, these crunchy guys are kind of addicting. What you’ll find on this nutrition label that you won’t find on most other crispy, cheese-flavored snacks are that they only contain one single ingredient: cheese. Speaking of food labels, see what 8 Confusing Food Labels Really Mean.
Breakstone Cottage Cheese Snack Pack 2%
One 4 oz pack: 90 calories, 3 g fat, 2 g sat fat, 350 mg sodium, 7 g carbs, 0 g fiber, 5 g sugar, 10 g protein
Cottage cheese is a favorite among the diet-conscious crowd because it’s relatively low in calories and particular high in protein for its small serving size. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics suggests that a sedentary adult female needs about 46 grams of protein per day, and a sedentary adult male require around 56 grams (if you’re more active, you could take in a little more each day). One cottage cheese snack pack will provide you with around 20-25% of those daily requirements.
Sargento Balanced Breaks Natural White Cheddar with Almonds and Cranberries
One tray: 190 calories, 13 g fat, 4.5 g sat fat, 180 mg sodium, 12 g carbs, 2 g fiber, 7 g sugar, 7 g protein
According to the International Osteoporosis Foundation, cheese—especially cheddar, parmesan, and mozzarella—are considered a calcium-rich food and consuming more daily calcium can help fight against Osteoporosis and bone disease. These handy little trays take your snack to the next level by pairing creamy white cheddar slices with sea salted, roasted almonds and dried cranberries. Normally it would behoove you to steer clear of dried fruit, as it’s often high in sugar. However, this snack keeps the sugar counts under control capping it at 7 grams. To slow down on your sugar intake, don’t miss these 30 Easy Ways to Stop Eating So Much Sugar.
The Laughing Cow Creamy Swiss Garlic and Herb
One wedge: 35 calories, 1.5 g fat, 1 g sat fat, 190 mg sodium, 1 g carbs, 0 g fiber, 1 g sugar, 2 g protein
The Laughing Cow wedges may not provide as much protein per serving as other cheesy bites on this list, but they are incredibly low in calories and when paired with whole grain crackers or fruit they can provide a calcium-rich, high fiber afternoon snack. They also provide that decadent flavor, without all the calories and guilt that usually accompanies a more indulgent-tasting snack.
Sargento Reduced Fat Natural Sharp Cheddar Cheese Sticks
One stick: 60 calories 4.5 g fat, 3 g sat fat, 135 mg sodium, 1 g carbs, 0 g fiber, 1 g sugar, 5 g protein
“From a saturated fat perspective, low-fat cheeses are better for you and can also contain fewer calories, which is good because it can be all too easy to get a lot of calories from cheese,” says Isabel Smith, MS, RD, CDN, registered dietitian and founder of Isabel Smith Nutrition. These cheddar sticks keep the saturated fat content on the low side and can are a healthier choice as a result. According to the American Heart Association, too much saturated fat in a diet can raise bad cholesterol levels and increase your risk of heart disease. The AHA recommends that healthy adults cap saturated fat intake at 16 grams per day while those who have been advised by their doctor to lower their cholesterol should limit intake to a max of 11 to 13 grams per day.
Horizon Organic Mozzarella String Cheese
1 stick: 80 calories, 6 g fat (3.5 g sat fat), 200 mg sodium, 0 g fiber, 0 g sugar, 8 g protein
Each low-fat stick of this brand has a fifth of your day’s calcium intake, which means a low-fat you as well. Some researchers speculate that dairy calcium helps fight fat because it increases the “thermic effect” of eating—in other words, you burn more calories digesting calcium-rich foods than you would if you ate something with the same number of calories, but no calcium. Try a piece of pre-sliced, low-fat cheese like mozzarella or Monterey Jack with some wheat crackers, recommends Christine M. Palumbo, a Chicago-based dietician. “Cracked Pepper and Olive Oil Triscuits work great for this and have a really nice flavor,” she says.