Is Cheese Bad for Your Heart? Plus, the Types of Cheese That Are Actually Healthy

Judging by the number of cooking shows that air each week and the plethora of restaurants within a five-mile radius of wherever you’re sitting right now, it’s pretty safe to say we are a nation obsessed with food. This isn’t all bad. But taken too far, it can be. Especially when it comes to cheese.

Admit it — if you could put cheese on everything you ate, you’d do it. Maybe you already do?

Of all the foods that could be increasing your heart disease risk, cheese seems to hover near the top of the list. But perhaps that’s only true if you eat too much of it.

So, what’s the deal with cheese? Can you keep eating it or should you throw it out? Is it yet another food that’s slowly killing you — or is a little bit actually a good thing?

Is cheese unhealthy?

Shredded cheese

Shredded cheese | iStock.com/Anna_Kurz

Whether or not you should eat cheese really depends on the type of cheese — or cheese-like product — you are consuming.

Highly processed cheeses, such as cheese spreads and powdered “cheese” (it’s still technically cheese, in case you were wondering) do not provide the same health benefits as more “natural” cheeses you might find at a deli or farmers market.

But even many “healthy” cheese varieties are relatively high in sodium, saturated fat,¬†and calories per serving. Just because real cheese has health benefits does not mean you can expect to eat large amounts of it without consequences.

Having some cheese on your salad or as part of a sandwich isn’t a crime. It’s what you pair it with (or put it on) — and how often you eat it — that matters most. Pizza, nachos, and cheesy macaroni aren’t necessarily healthy because cheese is technically healthy. Look at the whole, not just one of the parts.

Is cheese bad for your heart?

Cheese, being an animal product, contains saturated fat. This causes many people to shun it and other dairy products, despite its high concentrations of protein, vitamins, and minerals.

It also contains sugar, and just the thought of willingly consuming carbs leaves some people mortified beyond reassurance.

Something that contains saturated fat and sugar may seem like it’s the worst thing you can put into your body — especially if you’re trying to protect your heart. But cheese gets a bad rap, considering it’s completely healthy and safe to eat — if you’re not allergic or intolerant to it.

It’s an excellent source of B vitamins, calcium, protein, and several essential minerals. In many ways, it’s healthier than a lot of the stuff in your fridge because it actually has health benefits — unlike many condiments and cream-based products.

Research suggests that the fat in dairy won’t hurt your heart. However, it’s still recommended that you eat it — yes — in moderation. A few pieces of pizza every now and then? Fine. A bowl of macaroni and cheese after a long day? Great. But don’t spend too much time in the cheese aisle. Too much of anything is definitely not heart-healthy.

Healthy cheese: The best cheeses you can eat

Greek Feta Cheese

Greek Feta Cheese | Mizina/iStock/Getty Images

If you can’t completely break off your slightly obsessive relationship with cheese (it’s made to make you want more — there’s nothing to be ashamed of), some cheeses are slightly healthier than others. If you’re going to have it, make sure it’s one of these cheeses:

  • Feta
  • Sharp cheddar
  • Swiss
  • Cottage
  • Fresh mozzarella
  • Goat

For the most part, stay away from cream cheese, American cheese (is it really cheese?), and gruyere. These cheeses and many others are higher in calories and fat, which may all but cancel out their health benefits if you aren’t careful.

You don’t have to live a cheese-free life. Just mind which cheeses you eat and how often/how much of them you have. It’s only bad for your heart if it makes up the majority of your daily calories. And honestly, if you even have to question whether or not you fall into that category, it may be time to get help for your cheese obsession.