Best and Worst Cheeses for Your Heart (and Waistline)

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
  • dairy

    Foods play a powerful role in reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease—and slowing the progression of existing heart disease. If you’ve been watching what you eat to boost your heart health or reduce your waistline, you might be surprised to hear that you can incorporate cheese into a heart-healthy diet. The key lies in choosing the best cheeses for heart health, such as reduced-fat cheeses, and avoiding processed cheese (the worst cheese for heart health). Let this list help guide your cheese choices for heart health.

  • 1
    Best: Reduced-Sodium Feta or Goat Cheese
    Feta cheese on cutting board

    Fresh, unripened cheeses like feta and goat cheese contain less fat than their ripened counterparts, which make them an acceptable choice when consuming a heart-healthy diet. But you should consider other nutritional factors besides fat content in cheese. Unripened cheeses often contain far more sodium than recommended for heart health, so choose low-sodium versions of these otherwise heart-healthy cheeses. And if your favorite fresh cheese also comes in a reduced-fat style, opt for that one.

  • 2
    Best: Fat-Free or Reduced-Fat Cottage Cheese
    Cottage cheese on wooden spoon

    Cottage cheese packs a calcium wallop, along with B vitamins and magnesium—all of which are important nutrients for heart health. That said, choose the fat-free or reduced-fat versions of cottage cheese to avoid consuming excess dietary fat. And read the label to find out how much sodium each serving contains. The amount of salt in cottage cheese can vary widely between brands. Choose the cottage cheese with the least amount of fat and sodium (and the shortest ingredient list) for optimum health benefits.

  • 3
    Best: Reduced-Fat Ricotta
    Close-Up Of Fresh Cheese Ricotta Toast

    Mild ricotta cheese not only tastes great, but it contains nearly one-third of your daily protein requirement in a half-cup serving. However, traditional ricotta usually is loaded with saturated fat, so choose low-fat (and low-sodium) versions of ricotta when you feel like enjoying this mild, soft cheese. Read labels because the percentage of fat and total sodium number can vary by brand. By substituting reduced-fat, lower-sodium ricotta for the full-fat version in recipes, you can indulge without feeling guilty that you’ve busted your eating plan.

  • 4
    Best: Fresh, Part-Skim Mozzarella
    Woman preparing Caprese salad with fresh mozzarella and tomatoes on chopping board

    Another lovely, heart-healthy cheese you can indulge in regularly is fresh, part-skim mozzarella. This mild cheese is perfect for snacking on because it’s generally lower in sodium and saturated fat than other cheese choices. As a bonus, fresh mozzarella usually contains beneficial active cultures like Lactobacillus, which promote gut health. Some research suggests that good gut health can reduce overall body inflammation, which benefits your blood vessels and heart.

  • 5
    Best: Reduced-Fat Cheddar
    many small pieces of sliced cheese cubes on a wooden board

    Although unripened cheeses make the best choice for heart health, you can consume harder, ripened cheeses like cheddar and Monterey jack, too, as long as you choose reduced-fat versions over their full-fat cousins. Ripened cheeses contain more fat than unripened varieties, and you should read labels carefully because the amount of fat and sodium can vary between brands and cheese varieties. Remember that a serving size for any ripened cheese is one ounce (or roughly a one-inch cube), so indulge mindfully.

  • 6
    Worst: American Cheese Slices
    Burgers on Charcoal Grill with American cheese melted

    Barely a cheese, American cheese slices are made from cheesemaking byproducts with added fats and colorants. American cheese is a highly processed product, often with a high sodium content. A single slice of American cheese can contain as much as 25% of the recommended daily intake of saturated fat, which is very high for anyone aiming to improve their heart health. Choose natural, reduced-fat cheddar instead of American singles.

  • 7
    Worst: Pasteurized Process Cheese Spread
    Opened package of processed cheese

    If you’re seeking a heart-healthy cheese, the orange loaf that comes in a box and boasts superb meltability should not be on your list. Whether it comes in a box or a jar, these pasteurized, processed cheeses contain very high levels of calories, saturated fat, and sodium—all of which are bad for your cardiovascular health. If you want a very melty cheese, aim for part-skim mozzarella or a reduced-fat gouda or fontina instead.

  • 8
    Worst: Brie
    Brie Cheese on Crackers with Wine

    Brie and other super-soft cheeses like Camembert contain far too much fat to make them a healthy choice for the heart or the waistline. These cheeses are made with lots of cream, which makes them soft and luscious—but also far too easy to over-indulge on. Your best bet is to avoid these ripened, rind-covered cheeses and stick to the healthier varieties instead. Your heart will thank you for it.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Jan 21
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.