Cheese and Your Low-Cholesterol Diet

Assorted cheese
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Patients with high cholesterol are often confused about whether cheese can be part of their diet.

Some choose to avoid eating cheese altogether, while others don't change their cheese intake at all.

A more appropriate strategy falls somewhere in the middle. It isn't necessary to avoid cheese entirely, but if you have high cholesterol, you will need to make some changes.

While it's true that regular-fat cheeses can be a considerable source of saturated fat ("bad fat" that contributes to high cholesterol) and calories. But this is not true of all varieties.

Reduced-fat, light and non-fat cheeses are much lower in saturated fat. They can be used regularly but should be considered accessory toppings rather than the focus of a meal. Even standard (full-fat) cheeses can be enjoyed in moderation. Again, think of them as "sometimes" foods and not the main focus of the meal.

Frequency and Portion Control

For a diet to be successful, dietitians promote the concept that there are "no entirely forbidden foods." Like any food, cheese can be included in your low-cholesterol plan as long as frequency and portion size are considered.

Alison Massey MS, RD, outpatient dietitian at St. Joseph Medical Center (Towson, Md.), encourages her patients to stick to 1-ounce portions when enjoying cheese. (A 1-ounce portion of cheese is equivalent to roughly four playing dice or an adult-sized thumb).

Alternatives to Standard-Sized, Full-Fat Cheeses

"Many companies now sell their cheeses in the 'perfect portion' or snack sizes. [T]wo of my favorites are Cabot and The Laughing Cow, " Massey says. "They also have reduced-fat and lite options."

Lower the Amount of Full-Fat Cheese Consumed

While it's true that full-fat cheese can be high in unhealthy saturated fat, making smart dietary decisions can help you lower the amount you consume over the course of the day.

"If you can't do without full-fat cheese, why not try to lower the total amount of cheese overall?" says Jessica Butcher, RD, a dietitian in Grand Haven, Mich.

Butcher provides three tips to modify the amount of full-fat cheese in your meal:

  1. Order pizza with half of the full-fat cheese.
  2. Enjoy your sandwich or burger without cheese and add a couple of extra pickles instead.
  3. Opt for a more flavorful or stronger-tasting full-fat cheese to help you reduce the amount needed. Feta and goat cheese are amazing as a topping for your salad, pasta, or wrap.

Consider Alternatives

Keep in mind that cow's milk cheese is not your only option for enjoying dairy products.

"Choose low-fat or fat-free cheeses, or try cheese made from soy, almond or goat's milk," says Beth Ellen DiLuglio, MS, RD, nutrition educator (Florida).

Bottom Line

Enjoy full-fat cheese in moderation or opt for non-fat or low-fat cheeses. Omit cheese toppings when you can, or consider non-cow's milk cheese alternatives.

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Article Sources

  • Personal Interview 4/28/11 Alison Massey

  • Personal Interview 4/28/11 Beth Ellen DiLuglio

  • Personal Interview 4/28/11 Jessica Butcher