Calling all Cheese Lovers

October 18, 2019
| Created by Hannah Langley, MS, RDN, CD

Here at Harmons we LOVE cheese. We are passionate about sourcing high quality cheeses and training our cheesemongers to be as knowledgeable as possible. The American Cheese Society (ACS) certifies cheese professionals to demand high standards in the industry. Out of 24 certified cheese professionals (CCP) in Utah, 7 of them are employed by Harmons! The ACS also offers a Certified Cheese Sensory Evaluator (CCSE) credential — think of this like a cheese sommelier: someone who can identify cheese condition, quality, flavor, texture, and body. Out of 30 CCSEs in the United States, 4 are employed by Harmons.

If the dietitian team is honest, one of our favorite parts of the store is the cheese island. We love learning about the different cheeses from our cheesemongers and especially enjoy sampling them. These conversations always lead to questions about which cheeses are healthiest and why we don’t label any cheeses “Dietitians Choice.”

After careful scrutiny of the available research and consideration of diet preferences and nutrition needs in Utah, we are happy to announce that we will begin tagging healthier cheeses with our “Dietitians Choice” symbol!

Question: Is cheese healthy?
Answer: It depends.

It all depends on the overall diet. The main way Utahns eat cheese is slathered on unhealthy foods like nachos, pizza, and French fries or prepared in unhealthy ways like fried mozzarella sticks. However, consider some feta cheese sprinkled over a salad or parmesan served over grilled vegetables; these are healthy contexts in which to eat cheese.

The main reason cheese has been considered unhealthy is due to the fact that it is high in calories, saturated fat, and often high in sodium. But, when included in reasonable amounts in an otherwise healthy diet, cheese is not associated with an increased risk of disease. Cheese adds delicious flavor along with a dose of protein and calcium.

Question: What’s a reasonable amount of cheese in an otherwise healthy diet?
Answer: Depends on your calorie needs, but a general guideline is 1.5 ounces per day.

For your reference, 1.5 ounces cheese = 48 grams = approximately 1/3 cup shredded cheese = 1.5 string cheese sticks = 1 or 2 slices cheese depending on thickness.

Over the past decade or so, there has been an increase in research regarding saturated fat in dairy products. More consistently, the evidence indicates that saturated fat specifically from dairy may not be as harmful for health as once thought.

Before you run for the butter and ice cream, remember the bulk of research still says that limiting saturated fat is good for health. It is unlikely that adding cheese to an otherwise healthy, balanced diet will make anyone healthier, and there’s no research suggesting that it will. What we are saying is small amounts of cheese in an already healthy diet probably won’t make you less healthy, but will make you happy (as long you don’t have a dairy allergy or lactose intolerance)!

“It’s unlikely that adding cheese to an otherwise healthy, balanced diet will make anyone healthier, and there is no research suggesting that it will.”

It is important that we stress this point: adding cheese to an unhealthy and unbalanced diet will not make you healthier. Instead, add a little bit of cheese to healthy foods for good nutrition and happy taste buds. Remember, cheese contains significant calories, so you may need to balance that elsewhere in your diet.

Another consideration is the fact that fat is filling. If adding some cheese to your diet keeps you fuller longer and helps you manage hunger and avoid overeating, cheese may be a good pick for you. However, if you’re what we call a “volume eater” and prefer consuming larger amounts of food, be wary of cheese as it packs a lot of calories into a small package. Too much cheese too often can lead to an unbalanced diet.

Sensible dietary advice (including ours here at Harmons) recommends consuming a variety of mostly plant-based foods for optimal health. Healthy diets can — but don’t always — include dairy. And, though dairy fat might not be as detrimental as we once thought, there are plenty of other fats with more proven health benefits like olive oil, avocados, nuts, and seeds. Consider enjoying your cheese with nuts, whole grain crackers, fresh fruits, or veggies for a healthy and delicious mix.

When you see the Dietitians Choice tag on cheese know that it will:

  • Be lower in saturated fat compared to other cheeses
  • Be lower in sodium relative to other cheeses
  • Not have added sugar
  • Be only real cheese (not cheese-like products with additives)

Finally, please note that Dietitians Choice was created to help the average Utahn choose nutritious foods. You should always meet with your dietitian if you have specific health conditions. Your personal nutrition recommendations may not be the same as those for the “average Utahn.”

If you can’t get enough, here are more tips for navigating dairy foods:

  • Choose milk with the lowest fat percentage that satisfies you.
  • Enjoy cheese strategically, like a sprinkle of freshly grated parmesan on soups or a bit of sharp cheddar with an apple for a snack.
  • Choose yogurt that is plain or low in added sugar.
  • Use butter sparingly. Most of the time, choose plant-based oils, like olive and canola.
  • Save ice cream and other dairy-based desserts for an occasional treat. They contain lots of sugar and calories in a small serving without the same nutritional profile of milk or cheese.