Ask the Diet Doctor: Is Full-Fat or Lowfat Cheese Better for Me?
Are a few calories saved worth the subpar flavor and higher sodium?
Q: I hate the taste of lowfat cheese. Is the real, full-fat stuff that bad for me?
A: Not only is regular cheese not that bad for you, the reduced-fat stuff has several drawbacks to it.
Lowfat cheese was created due to the public health drive to reduce our saturated fat consumption in the hopes of reducing LDL cholesterol (that’s the “bad” cholesterol) and thus the risk for developing heart disease.
See, cheese is the number-one source of saturated fat in the American diet, followed by pizza, which, of course, is usually loaded with the ooey-gooey stuff. In order to help individuals achieve the lowfat dietary goal, lowfat dairy became an important part of the plan. Switching from full-fat to lowfat cheese will save you about 3 grams of saturated fat and 40 calories per ounce.
All well and good, but, as you pointed out, there’s the taste—it just isn’t the same. There’s also the impaired melt-a-bility factor, plus it can become a frankenfood if you aren’t careful.
My favorite cheese is Cabot cheddar cheese. It has four ingredients: pasteurized milk, cheese cultures, salt, and enzymes. Cabot also sells a “light” cheddar cheese that contains a very similar ingredient list: pasteurized lowfat milk, cheese cultures, salt, enzymes, and vitamin A palmitate. But with other lowfat cheeses—especially when you’re talking about the shredded variety—the ingredient list skyrockets up to 12 or more things. That’s not what I would call “cheese.”
The last component of lowfat cheese that you should be wary of is the sodium content. While the average American consumes 3,400 milligrams of sodium a day, you should limit yourself to 2,300 mg, or a little more than a teaspoon. And the most recent dietary guidelines recommends that anyone 51 and older; African American; or who has high blood pressure, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease only consume 1,500 mg of sodium per day.
Generally reduced-fat cheese has upwards of 20 percent more sodium than full-fat cheese. This isn’t always the case, however, so make sure to read the food labels to ensure you aren’t picking a product that has been pumped full of extra sodium to enhance the flavor and shelf-life.
All of that considered, what should you reach for when you’re craving grilled cheese or or stuffed pasta?
Go with what you like. Full-fat cheese in moderation is perfectly fine. The 40 extra calories can be burned off by taking the stairs to your office a couple times instead of the elevator, and if you are trying to control saturated fat, making efforts to trim external fat from meats, using olive oil instead of butter when cooking, and limited the amount of dessert and pizza you eat will make the three grams in your cheese a non-issue.