Would you believe it if I told you cheese could actually be healthy? It can be! And get this: you don’t even have to settle for the low-fat stuff! In fact, when manufacturers take out fat and substitute it with additives to make up for lost flavor, you might end up missing out on some health benefits of the gouda stuff. In fact, a 2016 study published in the journal Circulation found that consuming full-fat dairy products can reduce your risk of diabetes.
Dietitian Lisa Samuels, RD, and founder of Happie House, says that rather than shopping for a cheese with the least amount of fat or sodium content, you should focus on finding one with the least ingredients. We’re talking the bare minimum: dairy, salt, and enzymes. And if we’re getting particular with what kind of dairy, when it’s available for a price that won’t break the bank, you should opt for organic. She tells us that full-fat cheeses are richer and will satisfy those cheese cravings better without all the additives you’ll find if you cut corners with a low-fat alternative.
Ready to cut the cheese? We’ve rounded up a list of the better-for-you cheese options and followed it up with some of the worst cheeses at the grocery store. And if you’re looking for even more supermarket shopping guides and essential nutrition tips at your fingertips, subscribe to the new Eat This, Not That! magazine now! For a limited time, you can save 50 percent off the cover price—click here!
The Best Cheeses in the Grocery Store
Mini Babybel Light
As far as snacking goes, this cheese wheels it’s way to number one in our book! “With just 3 grams of fat and 2 grams saturated, this snack has less saturated fats than a Laughing Cow Wedge, and it packs triple the metabolism-boosting protein, with as much as an egg!” says Dave Zinczenko, author of The Super Metabolism Diet. (Psst! Check out What Happens to Your Body When You Eat Eggs.) Despite the “light” label only milk, salt, and enzymes make it on the ingredient list, passing our simplicity test with flying colors.
Cabot Vermont Cheese Premium Naturally Aged Cheddar Seriously Sharp
A dietitian go-to with 7 grams of protein, a portion size of this rich cheese selection will fill you up and satisfy even the most serious savory hankering. Why is this Dr. Samuel’s favorite? It’s good quality, natural, and has minimal ingredients—the perfect addition to your next cheese board.
Applegate Naturals American-Style Colby Cheese Slices
Free of genetically engineered growth hormones such as rBGH (banned in other countries around the world because of links to possible increases in cancer), this all American cheese is our favorite addition to your burger. And speaking of burgers, cutting calories in between the bun is cool, but how about ditching it all together? Check out these nifty bun alternatives to learn more and spice things up at your summer barbecue.
Nikos Feta Cheese 8 oz Square
With a whole lot of flavor and a naturally low calorie and fat content, feta cheese is our favorite go-to salad topper. This brand, unlike most that already come crumbled in a mixture of additives and non-caking agents, keeps the ingredient list simple with just dairy, enzymes, and salt. Speaking of sodium though, feta cheese tends to pack a lot of it, although choosing a serving of this block versus popular brand Athenos Fat-Free feta will save you 90 milligrams.
Weight Watchers String Cheese Light Low-Moisture Part-Skim Mozzarella
We couldn’t make a cheese list without including this all time childhood favorite. Great for a school lunch, these grab-and-go cheese snacks are a guaranteed hit with 6 grams of protein we love and less of the sodium and saturated fats that we don’t. For just one fewer gram of protein than your traditional string cheese, this pick has more than half the fat and over 60 fewer milligrams of sodium.
Horizon Organic American Slices
With only three simple ingredients this time, Horizon Organic got it right with this one. “Instead of slathering your burger with BBQ sauce, slap on a slice of this organic cheese to add healthy fats, boost satiety, and cut down on belly-ballooning sugar,” Jeff Csatari, author of The 14-Day No Sugar Diet, says. Csatari was able to reverse his pre-diabetes diagnosis by cutting out added sugars from his diet with simple and tasty hacks like this one.
Good Culture Whole Milk Classic Cottage Cheese
Made with organic milk from cows not treated with rBST and containing active and live culture probiotics, this protein-packed cottage cheese is a home run.
Kerrygold Dubliner Cheese
This aged sweet and nutty cheese comes from only grass-fed cow milk. A 2018 study on grass-fed milk found a marked difference from both organic and grain-fed cows in levels of omega fatty acids. Grass-fed cow milk contained a more optimal ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 acids, which can help to suppress health issues that include cardiovascular, inflammatory, and autoimmune diseases.
Treeline Cheese Classic Aged Nut Cheese
Of all possible vegan options, this cheese takes the dairy free cake. Made from only 5 ingredients, the first being cashew nuts, this tangy cheese is as simple as it versatile—great for pasta, salads, or standing alone on a cheese board! The cashews up the fat content but also provide a great source of protein and iron that you won’t find in other dairy-free alternatives.
Laughing Cow Original Creamy Swiss Cheese
Recently free of additive carrageenan, a thickening agent derived from seaweed which has been linked to abdominal inflammation and discomfort, this cheese earns it’s spot back on our best list after it’s temporary trip down our worst. Dr. Samuels likes these creamy wedges for portion control, because with cheese this delicious, stopping at one serving size can be a challenge.
The Worst Cheeses at the Grocery Store
Horizon Shredded Cheddar Cheese
Make any dish better with a sprinkle of organic…wood chips?! Yes, you heard that right. This organic company uses cellulose, aka wood chip powder, to prevent caking of their cheese product in the bag, although they do proudly specify that their cheese isn’t bleached with chlorine in the ingredient list (thanks?). The truth is, shredded cheese in most all brands contains cellulose so if you want to avoid wood chips in your salad, opt for a block of cheese and grate it the old fashioned way, your body will thank you.
Kraft Fat Free Shredded Cheddar Cheese
Yes, this one uses cornstarch instead of wood chips to prevent caking, but they also use a boatload of artificial color to give their cheese it’s fluorescent orange color—another shredded cheese fail we want far from our next salad.
Tofutti Better Than Cream Cheese, Plain
The ingredient list for this cream cheese alternative is as long as it is highly processed and bad for your health. Mixed into a blend of expeller pressed oils and water, processed gums and cellulose (we’ll say it again, wood chips) are added to give this imitation mixture it’s cream cheese-like texture. Containing only 1 gram of protein and no vitamins or minerals such as calcium, this cream cheese gives new meaning to the term empty calories.
Land O’Lakes Sharp American Singles
We’re gonna need a lot a lakes in the land to keep hydrated after these yellow American singles. With 1/7 of the FDA recommended sodium allowance of 2,300 mg a day in just one measly deli thin slice, these tip the danger scale for salt and won’t even leave you full in the process.
Polly-O Twist Cheese
A school lunch favorite because of the satisfying feeling when you successfully separate it’s two-toned twist, the nutrition in this mozzarella and cheddar string cheese is fine by us. We could do without the added dyes that give it it’s fun colors though, and so could you.
Violife Just Like Gouda for Pizza Blocks
Completely void of protein, vitamins, and minerals—these vegan cheese blocks have 0 nutritional value and are packed with saturated fats and sodium. The third ingredient behind water and coconut oil is also modified food starch, which although is thought in itself to be safe, is processed with chemicals that some nutritionists question—you’ve gouda be kidding me.
Kraft American Cheese Slices
Beware any cheese labeled “pasteurized process cheese food” or even worse, “cheese product.” According to the FDA, these products don’t have enough real cheese in them to even be called cheese. As pasteurized process cheese food these slices are only required to have a minimum of 51% cheese, so what are they really? A mixture of 16 ingredients including milk protein concentrate, whey, and a lot of processed additives.
Sargento Part-Skim Ricotta Cheese
What happens when you take out the natural fats in a product like cottage cheese? In order to bring texture and taste back up to par with a whole milk ricotta, a host of thickeners and sweeteners are added. In this ricotta thickener of choice is carrageenan, which derived from seaweed, has been linked to abdominal inflammation and discomfort.
Follow your Heart Dairy Free Parmesan Style
Modified starch, carrageenan, cellulose—need we say more?
Breakstone’s Cottage Doubles Honey Vanilla
Breakstone’s cottage doubles snack line add fruit, and in this case vanilla and honey, to your snack for an extra sweet treat. It isn’t just whole fruit being tossed into the mixture though, and a host of added sugars and sodium slip through the crack in the process. Do yourself a favor and add your own fresh fruit to a 4% cottage cheese like the one on our best list.