Can You Eat Cheese if You Have High Cholesterol?

The Best Cheeses for a Cholesterol-Lowering Diet

woman eating cheese on cracker
Stockbyte/Getty Images

If you're looking to lower your cholesterol levels, you might want to look at how much cheese you eat. Americans are eating more cheese than ever before (23 pounds a year per person; three times as much as we did in 1970). While cheese is undeniably delicious, it's also loaded with many things that aren't particularly good for your heart, including saturated fat, sodium, cholesterol, and calories.

But while you shouldn't chomp cheese with abandon, it can still be part of your cholesterol-lowering diet. The keys are to watch your portion sizes (especially over the course of a day or week) and choose certain picks over others. 

Best and Worst Cheeses for Your Health

Cheese to choose:

  • Part Skim Mozzarella Cheese (15 mg cholesterol per 1 oz)
  • Low-fat (1%) Cottage Cheese (9 mg cholesterol per cup)
  • Low-fat Cheddar or Colby Cheese (6 mg cholesterol per 1 oz)
  • Fat-Free Cream Cheese (1 mg cholesterol per tbsp)

Cheese to Limit:

  • Whole Milk Ricotta Cheese (125 mg cholesterol in 1 cup)
  • Commercially Prepared Cheesecake (44 mg cholesterol per slice)
  • Cheeses with 25 to 27 mg cholesterol per ounce: Feta, Munster, American Processed Cheese*

*These cheeses can be enjoyed in moderation, for example, one slice or ounce per sandwich. It is all too easy to increase your cholesterol (and saturated fat) intake for the day if you select several slices.

Tips for Making Cheese a Healthier Part of Your Diet

  • Replace extra cheese on sandwiches. When it comes to sandwiches, ask yourself "Which vegetables and healthy flavorings can I add to take the place of extra cheese?" Sprouts, mushrooms, peppers, and tomatoes make excellent sandwich fillers. Spicy mustards, horseradish, and salsa can add flavor without cholesterol and fat. 
  • Think of other meat-free options. It's all too easy to overdo it on cheese if you're cutting back on meat. It's important to stay creative. Instead of relying on cheese, think of plant-based proteins, such as tofu, tempeh, beans, hummus and nut butters.
  • Don't be afraid to try low-fat cheese. Low or reduced-fat cheeses often have less cholesterol than their "regular" counterparts. When entertaining, try a warm low-fat Brie cheese, accompanied by a selection of all-fruit preserves, fresh grapes, and whole-wheat crackers to improve the nutritional quality of an old party favorite.
  • Maximize flavor. Full-fat hard cheeses can offer a lot of flavor to dishes, just use smaller portions and add it at the end of cooking. For example, even a small grating of parmigiano-reggiano on top of pasta adds a lot of flavor.
  • Don't have it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It's surprisingly easy to have cheese at breakfast (say with scrambled eggs), then again at lunch (cheese sandwich!), maybe a snack (cheese and crackers!) and then dinner (lasagna!). Be aware of how often you're eating cheese and try to curb the creep of cheese into multiple meals per day.

    Bottom Line

    Cheese is a good source of calcium and protein, and can be part of a cholesterol-lowering diet. Selecting lower fat versions of cheeses and limiting your portions will allow you to "have your cheese, and eat it too."

    Sources:

    United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Database for Standard Reference. Accessed 8/17/10.

    Continue Reading