Cheese: the good, the bad and the ugly (2024)

Many think there’s no place for cheese in a heart-healthy diet, but there’s room for everything in moderation. Ana Blanco guides you through which cheeses are the best choices, and which to eat sparingly.

The Good


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A soft, fresh cheese, Quark has a creamy texture and mild tangy taste. It’s very popular in Germany and Eastern Europe. Like most cheeses, Quark is high in protein and contains minerals, including calcium, which is important for bones and teeth. Unlike most other cream cheeses, it’s virtually fat-free and has no addedsalt – so you can enjoy this one with a clear conscience.

  • Get our recipe for cheese, pepper and basil open sandwich.

Cottage cheese

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This curd-based fresh cheese naturally contains less fat than other cheeses. Standard cottage cheese contains 6 per cent fat (3 per cent saturated fat); however, you can buy low fat versions which contain 2 per cent fat, of which 1 per cent is saturated fat. Its name is believed to have originated because the simple cheese was usually made in cottages from any milk left over after making butter.

It can be eaten by itself, with fruits and vegetables or as a jacket potato filling. It’s better to add your own flavourings to avoid the extrasugar and salt that can come with pre-mixed versions.


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Paoletta S. / Via Wikimedia Commons

This is one of the world’s oldest cheeses, dating back to the Bronze Age. Ricotta is an Italian curd cheese made from whey left over from the production of other cheese. Compared to most cheeses, ricotta is a healthier choice because it contains less salt and fat - 10 per cent fat, of which 6 per cent is saturated.It’s light and creamy with a slightly grainy texture and delicate flavour that can be used on its own or in sweet and savoury dishes.

You can use it instead of mozzarella or other cheeses to top your pizza, or crumble it into warm pasta for a delicious and healthy dish.

  • Get our recipe for crostini with roasted balsamic vegetables, olives and ricotta.

Reduced-fat Cheddar

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Cheddar is the most popular type of cheese in the UK, originating in the English village of Cheddar in Somerset around the late 12th century. These days Cheddar is made anywhere in the world. Cheddars vary in flavour depending on the length of ageing and their origin. The reduced-fat version isn’t low in fat or salt but contains 30 per cent less fat than the standard variety so it’s a good switch to make. On average it contains 22 per cent fat (14 per cent saturated) compared to standard Cheddar which contains about 35 per cent fat (22 per cent saturated).

Reduced-fat Cheddar cheese is a good swap for standard cheddaron a cheeseboard or for using as a sandwich filling.

  • Get our recipe for muffins with leeks and cheese.
  • Try our courgette and tomato muffins.
  • Get our recipe for mini pea and red pepper frittatas.


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Mozzarella is a semi-soft cheese traditionally made from Italian water buffalo milk by heating the curds in water or whey until they become elastic in texture. These days mozzarella is more often made from cow’s milk. It melts well and has a unique stretchiness, making it the classic pizza topping cheese. The kind of mozzarella you buy in a ball typically contains about 18 per cent fat and 12 per cent saturated fat, while ready-grated Mozzarella (which has a lower moisture content) contains around 21 per cent fat and 13 per cent saturated fat.

Go for a reduced-fat version instead - typically 10 per cent fat and 7 per cent saturated fat - which works just as well on pizza or in a salad with tomatoes and avocado. Most of us use less cheese when it’s grated rather than sliced, for example if you’re topping a pizza. Italian mozzarella can be tricky to grate, though, so if topping a pizza, try tearing the mozzarella into small pieces and scattering it thinly. Buffalo mozzarella is usually higher in fat, typically 24 per cent fat and 17 per cent saturates.

  • Try our recipe for chicken and pepper pitta pizzas.


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Rebecca Siegel / Via

Feta is a rich and creamy soft cheese, made in Greece from sheep's milk, or from a mixture of sheep and goat's milk. It has a strong flavour, so a little goes a long way. Feta cheese is lower in fat than many cheeses (around 20 per cent, 14 per cent saturated) but it’s high in salt, so avoid adding additional salt when cooking with feta. Reduced-fat feta is a healthier choice (though still high in salt) and is quite widely available. Similar cheeses are sometimes sold as ‘salad cheese’, as it can’t be legally called feta if made from cow’s milk or made outside Greece.

Feta goes particularly well with summer vegetables such as tomatoes, cucumbers, aubergines and courgettes – why not try it in a Greek-style salad with salad leaves and plenty of tomatoes and cucumber?

The Bad


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Jon Sullivan / Via Wikimedia Commons

Camembert is a soft, creamy, surface-ripened cow's milk cheese. It was first made in the late 18th century at Camembert, Normandy in northern France. It has a rich flavour which can range from buttery to pungent, depending on the type of Camembert and its age.

Camembert’s creamy texture may mean it looks like the bad boy of the cheese board, but it contains less fat than some other cheeses (at around 23 per cent, 14 per cent saturated). Its salt levels are high (1.5g or more per 100g), so go easy on how much you eat. Deep fried camembert comes with even more fat.

  • Read our list of times to say no to cheese.


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Coyau / Via Wikimedia Commons

Brie is a soft cows' milk cheese that is named after the province in France in which it originated. Similar in texture to Camembert, but with a higher fat content (29g per cent, 18 per cent saturated), Brie is produced from whole or semi-skimmed cow's milk. Although it is high in fat, Brie still has less fat than Cheddar or Stilton. Look out for ‘light’ versions of brie which will have less fat.

Danish Blue

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Stuart Webster / Via

Danish Blue was created by a Danish cheesemaker in the early 1900s. It has a moist body, dark blue veins and a salty taste with 29 per cent fat per 100g (19 per cent saturated). Although it has slightly less fat than Stilton, it’s even higher in salt (3g per 100g compared to 2.0g in stilton). If you enjoy Danish Blue, eat it sparingly on salads or as a dessert cheese with fruit.


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Parmesan is a very hard cheese which has been made from cow's milk in and around the Italian province of Parma for the past eight centuries or more. Parmesan cheese is high in salt (1.7g per 100g). It is also high in fat (30 per cent fat, 19 per cent saturated fat).

However, the good thing about Parmesan is that its strong flavour means you don’t need to use much – it works particularly well as a substitute for cheddar if you are grating cheese for pasta dishes that have a cheese topping, like lasagne, or you could try it in a normal cheese sauce – use a smaller amount than you would usually because of its strong flavour.

  • Get our recipe for Italian bread soup.


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Keith Williamson / Via

Stilton is an English cheese named after the village of Stilton where the cheese was first made. Nowadays, it can only be made in the three counties of Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire from regional cow’s milk. It’s produced in two varieties: blue and white. Blue Stilton is soft and crumbly, with a tangy flavour and blue veins. White Stilton has a milder flavour but the same texture, sold often with added flavourings such as dried fruit.

Stilton has a fat content of 35 per cent (23 per cent saturated) and nearly 2g of salt per 100g, making it a cheese to be eaten occasionally.


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Mascarpone is an Italian cheese from the Lombardy region made from just two ingredients: whole cream coagulated by the addition of citric or tartaric acid. Mascarpone is an ingredient of some famous Italian desserts like tiramisu. Mascarpone is not the best choice for your heart health as it’s one of the highest fat cheeses (44 per cent, of which 30 per cent is saturated). Sadly there isn’t a reduced-fat mascarpone, but try substituting half the mascarpone in recipes with low fat greek yoghurt for a healthier approach, or substitute it for Quark or a low-fat cream cheese instead.

  • Get our recipe for heart-healthy tiramisu.

…And the Ugly

Maggot cheese

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Shardan / Via Wikimedia Commons

Fancy some live maggots in your cheese? Yes, maggots. Casu Marzu is a traditional Sardinian sheep milk cheese full of them. It’s created by leaving whole Pecorino cheeses outside with part of the rind removed to allow the eggs of the cheese fly to be laid in it. Essentially, the maggots are fermenting the cheese becoming very soft as it develops flavour. There’s also a similar cheese from Corsica called casgiu merzu.

The maggots can jump several inches so you might want to hold your hands above the cheese to stop them leaping into your eyes – or anywhere else. Or perhaps safety goggles would be an option? I think we’ll pass…

Stinking cheese

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Jon Sullivan / Via Wikimedia Commons

There are smelly cheeses – and there are the types that can clear a room. Vieux Boulogne was judged the smelliest in the world by researchers from Cranfield University. It’s a cow’s milk cheese made in Pas de Calais, in northern France, washed with beer several times during the production process. The particularly pungent smell, which has been compared to ‘six-week-old earwax’ is created by the beer reacting with enzymes in the cheese. It even beat Epoisses de Bourgogne, a cheese so stinky that it is banned from the Parisian public transport system.

The French don’t have the monopoly on smelly cheeses, though – look out for Gloucestershire’s own Stinking Bishop, judged Britain’s smelliest cheese. It is washed in perry (made from the Stinking Bishop pear). It has appeared in Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit and in the Monty Python Live (Mostly) version of the cheese shop sketch.

  • Read our 7 cheese facts that will surprise you.
  • Watch our animation about why too much salt is bad for you.
Cheese: the good, the bad and the ugly (2024)


Why do they say cheese is bad for you? ›

Cheese is a great source of protein and calcium but is often high in saturated fat and salt. This means eating too much could lead to high cholesterol and high blood pressure, increasing your risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD).

What is good and bad about cheese? ›

How cheese is eaten may lead to different health outcomes. Bottom line: Although cheese is high in saturated fat and sodium, it is also rich in calcium and protein, and some fermented types contain probiotics. One can enjoy a modest amount of cheese as part of a healthful diet, but how it is eaten is key.

What is the most expensive cheese in the world? ›

1. Pule Cheese - $600 Per Pound. Pule cheese is the most expensive cheese in the world because it is produced exclusively at Serbia's Zasavica Special Nature Reserve. This rare cheese is made from the milk of Balkan donkeys which are endangered and native to Serbia and Montenegro.

Is ricotta cheese the same as cottage cheese? ›

Whereas ricotta is sweeter, cottage cheese has a notable tangy flavor from the slow acid fermentation. It has a heavier, thicker consistency than ricotta, and is generally studded with larger curds, though it comes in small and large curd varieties.

What is the most unhealthiest cheese? ›

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.

Why shouldn't you eat cheese at night? ›

Strong or aged cheese, as well as preserved meats such as bacon, ham and pepperoni, contains naturally high levels of the amino acid, tyramine, which make us feel alert. Tyramine causes the adrenal gland to release the 'fight or flight' hormone, which increases alertness for a number of hours.

When should you not eat cheese? ›

Cheese contains lactose, a sugar that can't be digested by lactose intolerant people because their bodies lack the enzyme that breaks it down. In these cases, eating lactose can lead to digestive problems including gas, bloating, and diarrhea.

What cheese do rich people eat? ›

White Stilton Gold: $420/pound

White Stilton cheese is actually the cousin to the famous blue cheese from Britain but is extra creamy and deliciously tangy. This cheese is often made with different fruit flavors like lemon, ginger, apricots, and many other combos.

What is the best tasting cheese in the world? ›

10 Best Cheeses of the World
  • Epoisses AOC French Cheese. ...
  • Valencay With Ash French Goat Cheese. ...
  • Camembert du Bocage French Cheese. ...
  • Brillat Savarin Fresh French Cheese. ...
  • French White Winter Truffle Butter Roll. ...
  • Parmigiano Reggiano DOP Italian Cheese, Aged 24 Months. ...
  • Perlagrigia Italian Truffle Cheese.

What is the difference between mozzarella and burrata? ›

Fresh mozzarella cheese is made from cow or water buffalo milk. It has a firm but elastic texture and can be sliced without losing its shape. Burrata cheese is mozzarella that's formed into a thin pouch and then filled with a mixture of soft, stringy curd and cream called stracciatella.

Is ricotta cheese bad for cholesterol? ›

The saturated fats and cholesterol in cheese are not a problem when consumed as part of a healthy diet. Cheeses with lower fat content, such as cottage cheese, ricotta cheese, or nonfat cheddar, have relatively less cholesterol. Therefore, you do not need to eliminate all cheese from your diet.

Can you eat ricotta cheese raw? ›

Ricotta is smooth and slightly sweet from the heavy cream and you can even eat it when it's still warm. I love to mix olive oil, salt and pepper into it, then smear it across toast. It's also great mixed into hot pasta, layered onto lasagna, or turned into a dip for raw vegetables like radishes and carrots.

What's better, Greek yogurt or cottage cheese? ›

So far, these two high-protein snacks are neck in neck when considering protein, calcium and calories. But one clear distinction steers the choice: Cottage cheese can be loaded with sodium. Just 1 cup of cottage cheese can deliver 8 to 9 times the sodium found in Greek yogurt.

Why is cheese banned in the US? ›

Federal law prohibits the import of unpasteurized raw milk cheese that is less than 60 days old, a category that Epoisses falls into. Regulators are concerned the cheese could harbor harmful bacteria or pathogens, particularly listeria.

Is cheese worse than meat for health? ›

However, newer research suggests that the saturated fat from cheese does not contribute to heart disease in the same way as saturated fat from red meats. A 2021 study found that saturated fat from cheese intake was associated with a lower incidence of heart disease. Learn about the healthiest cheeses.

Is cheese its junk food? ›

Cheez-It baked snack crackers have been a hit for over a century. Though they're "made with real cheese," ingredients like food preservative TBHQ, high levels of sodium, and enriched flour make them fairly unhealthy. A 2021 study found that TBHQ can harm the immune system, specifically immune cell proteins.

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