Top 10 healthiest cheeses | BBC Good Food

As the hero ingredient of a dish or a tasty finale to a meal, cheese remains popular. Read on to discover which varieties should take pride of place on your cheeseboard.

What is cheese?

Produced from the milk of farm animals, cheese is made by combining milk with salt, live cultures and an acid or enzyme called rennet. There are thousands of different types of cheeses with nutritional profiles that vary accordingly – from soft and semi-hard to hard. The less moisture a cheese contains, the longer its shelf life.

Often vilified for being high in saturated fat, recent studies suggest fermented dairy products, such as cheese and yogurt, may not be as harmful as we once thought. This is because other nutrients in the product, or the fermentation process itself, may help moderate the effect of saturated fat in the body.

Discover our full range of health benefit guides or, check out some of our best cheese recipes, from cheese, oat and spring onion soda bread to tandoori paneer skewers with mango salsa.

Sweet potato & shallot quesadillas on a wooden board

What are the top 10 healthiest cheeses?

1. Gouda

A traditional washed-curd cheese made from cow’s milk and brined before ripening, gouda is instantly recognised by its signature holes that are formed by gasses released during fermentation.

Being a semi-hard cheese, gouda is especially rich in the mineral calcium and an exceptionally good source of vitamin K2, nutrients needed for healthy bones and teeth. It’s also a source of compounds that inhibit the angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) by relaxing veins and arteries with the potential to help lower blood pressure.

Gouda also contains antioxidants that appear to protect the cardiovascular system from the effects of high levels of salt; this is especially relevant for those who are salt-sensitive.

A 25g serving of gouda provides:

  • 94kcals/390kJ
  • 6.3g protein
  • 7.7g fat
  • 5.1g saturated fat
  • 193mg calcium
  • 0.578g salt

Check out our recipe for roast Jerusalem artichokes and leeks with crème fraîche, shaved gouda & hazelnuts.

2. Edam

Originating from the Netherlands, edam is made from semi-skimmed cow’s milk. It has a lower calorie and fat content than many other cheese varieties and an impressive calcium contribution.

Like gouda, edam contains the same compounds that have a blood pressure lowering effect as well as antioxidants that protect the cardiovascular system from the effects of high levels of salt.

A 25g serving of edam provides:

  • 85kcals/354kJ
  • 6.7g protein
  • 6.5g fat
  • 4.0g saturated fat
  • 199mg calcium
  • 0.623g salt

Check out our recipes for autumn vegetable soup with cheesy toasts and sweet potato & shallot quesadillas.

3. Goat’s cheese

This tangy, soft cheese is made from goat’s milk and has a higher medium chain fatty acid content than cheese made from cow’s milk. These types of fats are more rapidly absorbed during digestion making them less likely to be stored as body fat.

Goat’s milk has lower levels of the milk sugar, lactose, making it generally easier to digest for those with lactose intolerance. It also contains A2 casein, a protein that some people find easier to digest than cow’s milk, which contains A1 casein.

A 25g serving of goat’s cheese provides:

  • 80kcals/332kJ
  • 5.3g protein
  • 6.5g fat
  • 4.5g saturated fat
  • 33mg calcium
  • 0.375g salt

Try our recipes for goat’s cheese & caramelised onion frittata with a lemony green salad and goat’s cheese, pear & walnut tartines.

4. Parmesan

A hard cheese, parmesan is made from unpasteurised cow’s milk and aged for at least 12 months. The name “parmesan” and “Parmigiano Reggiano” are protected under Italian and European law, so any cheese carrying the name must originate from designated provinces in Italy.

Parmesan has mineral-binding compounds that make it an especially useful source of bone-building minerals, such as calcium and phosphorus. It also contains proteins that may modulate the immune system as well as having blood pressure lowering effects.

Thanks to its long aging process, parmesan has very low levels of lactose, making it a potential option for those with lactose intolerance. However, since it contains cow’s rennet, it’s not suitable for those following a vegetarian diet.

A 25g serving of parmesan provides:

  • 104kcals/432kJ
  • 9.1g protein
  • 7.4g fat
  • 4.8g saturated fat
  • 256mg calcium
  • 0.412g salt

This versatile cheese works in so many different recipes, our favourites include parmesan spring chicken and pea, mint & spring onion soup with parmesan biscuits.

5. Paneer

An Indian cheese made from whole cow’s milk combined with a fruit or vegetable acid such as lemon juice. Being made without the use of rennet makes paneer suitable for lacto-vegetarians.

With its relatively high fat content, paneer is a useful source of fat-soluble vitamins, including vitamins A and D. It’s also significantly lower in salt than most other varieties of cheese.

Eating cheese, such as paneer, as the final component of a meal may help reduce dental caries.

A 25g serving of paneer provides:

  • 82 kcals/341 kJ
  • 6.5g protein
  • 6.1g fat
  • 3.9g saturated fat
  • 34mg calcium
  • 0.02g salt

Paneer is a non-aged, non-melting soft cheese with a mild flavour, it keeps its shape when cooked making it perfect in curries and side dishes.

Check out our top paneer recipes, including paneer korma, spiced broccoli, paneer and peas with garam masala cashews, and paneer with broccoli and sesame.

6. Mozzarella

A soft, white fresh cheese with a high-moisture content, this Italian cheese is typically made from buffalo or cow’s milk. It has a low calorie, fat and salt content and is a source of beneficial microbes, although this may vary depending on the milk source used.

A 25g serving of mozzarella provides:

  • 64 kcals/267kJ
  • 4.7g protein
  • 5.1g fat
  • 3.4g saturated fat
  • 90mg calcium
  • 0.30g salt

Mozzarella works well in cooked foods because of its ability to melt, stretch and brown when heated.

Use mozzarella to make our mozzarella with tomato and chilli salsa, roast aubergine parmigiana and summery stuffed squash.

7. Ricotta

This creamy Italian cheese is made from the watery by-product of other cheeses, including mozzarella. The protein in ricotta comes mostly in the form of whey, which studies suggest may play an immune-supportive role.

A 25g serving of ricotta provides:

  • 36kcals/150kJ
  • 2.4g protein
  • 2.8g fat
  • 1.7g saturated fat
  • 60mg calcium
  • 0.06g salt

Ricotta is significantly low in fat and calories, yet has a deliciously creamy texture that works well in both sweet and savoury dishes.

Enjoy ricotta in our herb and ricotta chicken with mushroom rice, fig, nut and seed bread with ricotta, and fruit and white chocolate and ricotta cheesecake.

8. Cottage cheese

A soft, white cheese made from the loose curds of cow’s milk, cottage cheese has a unique protein-to-calorie ratio. It’s this high protein combined with low-calorie content that makes cottage cheese a good choice for weight management, with studies suggesting it may even be as satiating as eating an egg.

A 25g serving of cottage cheese provides:

  • 26kcals/108kJ
  • 2.4g protein
  • 1.5g fat
  • 0.8g saturated fat
  • 32mg calcium
  • 0.15g salt

Find inspiration with our tasty recipes, including cottage cheese fritters, spicy tuna and cottage cheese jacket, and open cottage cheese and pepper sandwich.

9. Cheddar

An English semi-hard cheese, cheddar is made from cow’s milk . It’s rich in protein and calcium and a good source of vitamin K2, which we need for healthy bones and teeth. This vitamin also plays an important role in how we use calcium and prevents it from being laid down in arteries and veins, which can inhibit blood flow and lead to an increased risk of heart disease.

A 25g serving of cheddar provides:

  • 104kcals/431kJ
  • 6.3g protein
  • 8.7g fat
  • 5.4g saturated fat
  • 185mg calcium
  • 0.453g salt

Try cheddar in our easy recipes courgette, potato and cheddar soup, and tomato and harissa stew with cheddar dumplings.

Baked feta with sesame & honey in a red dish

10. Feta

Typically made from sheep or goat’s milk combined with rennet, this Greek cheese is soft and tangy to taste. Typically packaged in a brine to help preserve its freshness, feta is comparatively high in salt.

Like other full-fat dairy products, feta is a source of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) which is associated with improvements in body mass composition and cardiovascular disease. However, although CLA levels increase during ripening, they decrease as the cheese ages.

A 25g serving of feta provides:

  • 62kcals/259kJ
  • 3.9g protein
  • 5.0g fat
  • 3.4g saturated fat
  • 90mg calcium
  • 0.625g salt

Check out our favourite feta recipes, baked feta with sesame and honey, and crispy grilled feta with saucy butter beans.

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