7 cheese facts that will surprise you

Cheese face

From "cheese addiction" to whether goats' cheese is better for you, we reveal the truth behind popular cheese misconceptions.

Cheese is a great source of protein and calcium but is often high in saturated fat and salt. This means eating too much could lead to high cholesterol and high blood pressure, increasing your risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD). In the UK, the standard portion size is 30g (the size of a small matchbox or two-and-a-half dominoes).

Your daily diet should feature three 30g portions of dairy products, and cheese alone won’t do. It’s fine to enjoy it sensibly though. Here’s how:

1. MYTH: I should give up cheese completely


You don’t have to cut cheese out of your diet, but if you have high cholesterol or blood pressure, use high-fat cheeses sparingly. A 30g portion of cheese provides seven per cent of your daily calories and there can be more salt in a portion of cheddar than in a packet of crisps.

Keep cheese portions small and weigh them to reduce temptation

Some types of roquefort, halloumi, feta and cheese singles are saltier than seawater. Cheese contains calcium and protein, so it can be OK in moderation, but remember: low-fat yoghurt, tinned fish, tofu, lentils and beans are good sources of calcium and protein too.

Keep cheese portions small and weigh them to reduce temptation. Using lower-fat cheeses – such as mozzarella, feta, cottage cheese or reduced-fat cheeses – will provide less saturated fat. Our table at the end of the page shows how the fat content of different cheeses compares.

Cooking from scratch helps too, as convenience foods often contain higher-fat cheeses. Take time to stop and ask if your dish really needs cheese at all.

2. MYTH: Reduced-fat cheese is rubbish


It’s a common misconception that reduced fat equals reduced flavour. Experiment with different brands to find one you like.

Remember: ‘reduced fat’ isn’t necessarily ‘low fat’, it just means 25 per cent less fat than the original. Check the label to see whether the fat content is high (more than 17.5g/100g), medium (3.1–17.5g/100g) or low (3g or less/100g).

You can also cook and bake with reduced-fat cheese, although reduced-fat varieties of hard cheeses may take longer to melt. Grate it finely and melt over a low heat. Sometimes these cheeses produce a skin when baked or grilled, so add them near the end of the baking time.

3. MYTH: I’m addicted to cheese


Figures about cheeseResearch suggests that casein – a protein found in dairy products and highly concentrated in cheese –releases opiates called casomorphins as it digests. These opiates can signal comfort to the brain indirectly via hormones.

However, a review by the European Food Safety Authority questioned whether casomorphins can be transferred through the intestine to the bloodstream or brain.

If you eat a lot of cheese, you may become accustomed to the salty flavour or the habit of having it at a certain time of day, so be aware of patterns in your eating and reduce your intake gradually.

4. MYTH: I need cheese to keep my bones strong


Cheese is a good source of calcium: a 30g portion of cheddar provides over a quarter of an adult’s daily requirements. However, other dairy products, such as yoghurt and milk, are just as good for the bones and much lower in fat and salt.

Cheese also contains a small amount of vitamin D, the fat-soluble vitamin that helps us absorb calcium from food. Lower-fat dairy products such as semi-skimmed milk do not contain as much vitamin D as fuller-fat cheese, but eggs, oily fish and fortified cereals (providing they’re low in sugar) are better sources anyway.

5. MYTH: Goat’s cheese is better for me than cow’s cheese


Goat cheeseSoft goat’s cheese contains about 26g of fat per 100g, similar to brie and edam, and about as much salt as camembert. Goat’s cheese is considered a ‘high-fat’ product – mozzarella and ricotta are lower in fat, as is feta, which traditionally is made from sheep's milk or sheep and goat's milk. (See our table at the end of this page for a comparison of the fat content of different cheeses). 

Goat’s cheese is touted as being better for people with lactose intolerance than soft cheeses made from cow’s milk. It actually has a similar lactose content to other semi-soft cheeses such as brie or feta, but is lower in lactose than wetter cheeses like ricotta and cottage cheese.

6. MYTH: Cheese on spaghetti bolognese doesn’t count


Grating cheese on your spaghetti bolognese adds extra calories, saturated fat and salt. A generous handful of cheddar could easily weigh 50g, adding 230kcal (more than 10 per cent of your daily requirement). Two level tablespoons of grated cheddar is about 20g.

Avoid using your hands to grab a large sprinkling, as you may add too much. To get that tasty cheese flavour while avoiding excess calories, use a smaller serving of a vintage or mature cheddar.

7. MYTH: Grated cheese is better than sliced


It is true that most people use less cheese when they grate it. A pre-cut slice of cheese usually weighs 20–30g and most people use many slices in a sandwich. 

But even if you’re grating cheese into sauces, toasties or jacket potatoes, you should still watch your portion size, as it’s easy to have too much.

Once cheese is grated, it’s difficult to equate it to a healthy matchbox-size portion. Weigh it out next time to check how good your guess is. Another common habit is to eat the knob of cheese that’s too small to grate. If this knob weighs 5g and you eat one twice a week, you will consume a whole day’s extra calories each year.

Type of cheese 

Total grams of fat per 100g

Saturated fat grams per 100g 

High fat (total fat more than 17.5g per 100g)
 Mascarpone  44  29
35 23
 Cheddar, Red Leicester, Double
Gloucester and other hard cheeses
35 22
 Parmesan 30 19
 Brie 29 18
 Paneer (made from whole milk) 28 18
 Soft goat’s cheese
26 18
 Edam  26 16
 Processed cheese
(e.g. cheese slices, cheese strings) 
24 14
23 14
20 14
 Mozzarella 20 14
Medium fat (total fat 3.1g-17.5g per 100g)
 Half-fat cheddar 
16 10
 Reduced-fat processed cheese
13  8
8  5
 Cottage cheese (plain or with additions
such as pineapple)
4  2
Low fat (total fat 3g or less per 100g)
 Reduced-fat cottage cheese (plain)  2 1
 Quark  0.2 0.1


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