Cheese has long gotten a bad rap because of its high saturated fat content, which is considered bad for heart health.
With the help of experts, we've come up with some general guidelines, as well as other factors to consider when making cheese part of a healthy diet.
Ranking by healthfulness
If you're looking for the leanest option, your best bet is fresh cheese. Such unripened cheeses include goat cheese, feta, ricotta and cottage cheese.
"These cheeses are produced by the coagulation of milk and cream by chemical or culture acidification, or a combination of chemical acidification and high heat treatment," says Nicole Magryta, a registered dietitian.
Cheese does provide some beneficial nutrients, she said, "including protein; calcium for bone and teeth health; zinc, which promotes wound-healing and immunity; vitamin A for eye and skin health, and B12."
These hard, fermented cheeses have been aged longer than soft cheese, lending a richer flavor and increasing shelf life.
They include varieties such as cheddar, Swiss and Parmesan and tend to be good sources of important vitamins and minerals such as calcium and vitamin A.
Blue cheese, which has been ripened with cultures of the mold penicillium, includes varieties such as Stilton and Gorgonzola.
It can be considered soft or hard, depending on how it's processed, and falls somewhere in the middle of the pack in terms of health.
Bloomy, mold-ripened varieties of cheese tend to have a firm rind and creamy interior, as they ripen from the outside in.
Although extremely tasty on that cheese plate, soft cheeses such as Camembert, brie and triple-crème (cheese enriched with cream) fall into the "less healthy" category because of their saturated fat content.
In the camp of cheeses better avoided completely, you can toss out the processed types, such as American cheese singles, Velveeta, spray can varieties or shredded cheeses in plastic bags.
These products shouldn't even be considered real cheese, as they have been manipulated and engineered and pumped with preservatives.
Avoid saturated animal fats.
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