With virtually zero carbs and loads of protein, cheese is a remarkably nutritious food — in moderation. Here’s how to keep it healthy.

Cheese won’t budge the blood sugar needle even a bit and it will make you feel plenty full . Cheese is also an excellent source of calcium, and studies show that getting plenty of calcium from food may help prevent insulin resistance, a harbinger of diabetes. According to a recent study, women who get plenty of calcium from dairy products also have a significantly lower risk of developing metabolic syndrome, which is linked to both diabetes and heart disease.

That doesn’t mean you can load up on all the mac ‘n’ cheese you want, though. It’s packed not only with calories but also with cheese’s big “design flaw” — saturated fat, the kind that clogs arteries and reduces your body’s sensitivity to insulin. That’s why it pays to choose, whenever possible, lower-fat cheeses, such as low-fat cottage cheese, low-fat string cheese, part skim mozzarella, skim ricotta, farmer cheese, and soft goat cheese. Otherwise, the drawbacks of cheese could easily outweigh its benefits. Soft cheeses have less fat per ounce (30 g) than hard cheeses (usually about 6 or 7 grams instead of 8 or 9).

When you do use a hard cheese like cheddar, you’ll want to eat less of it and/or choose a low-fat version. You probably won’t want to snack on low-fat cheddar, though, so give another cheese a try for nibbling.We suggest goat cheese sprinkled with herbs and drizzled with lemon juice. The acidic juice offers an added benefit, since the acid has the power to lower blood sugar. Another way to cut cheese calories is to choose a strong-flavored type like Parmesan, Romano, feta, or Muenster because a little goes a long way, and you can use less.

Cheese wouldn’t be so bad if we didn’t tend to use so much of it, as in lasagna or pizza that’s downright gooey with the stuff — but that’s easy to remedy! When making lasagna, you can use the usual amount of ricotta (part skim) and Parmesan but only half the mozzarella (part skim). Add a little extra spaghetti sauce to keep the lasagna moist. For pizza, you can ask for half the cheese at any pizzeria.

Health Bonus
If you think milk is good for you, consider this: It takes about 10 pounds (4.5 kg) of milk to create a single pound (450 g) of cheese, making it a concentrated source of all the good stuff in milk, including phosphorus, zinc, vitamin A, riboflavin, vitamin B12, and calcium. Probably because of their calcium content, low-fat dairy foods can also help bring down high blood pressure. (If you’re a cottage cheese fan, though, note that it’s one type of cheese that’s not high in calcium.)

Cheese can even help prevent cavities, especially if you eat it after meals or as a between-meal snack.

Glycemic Load: Very low

To make cheese last longer in the fridge, wrap it tightly in plastic wrap or aluminum foil to prevent it from drying out and change the wrapping each time you use the cheese to keep mold from taking hold.

Menu Magic

  • Serve cheese and fruit as an appetizer or a snack or even dessert. Mix and match flavors and textures. Try cheddar with sliced apples, Brie with pears, shaved Parmesan with Asian pears, or cottage cheese with peaches.
  • Pack string cheese in your briefcase or purse for a low-fat, high-protein hunger tamer.
  • Add feta or goat cheese to omelets.
  • Create a salad with shredded Swiss, diced seedless grapes, chopped pecans, and chopped fresh basil. Serve with whole wheat crackers.
  • Make an easy toaster-oven pizza by topping a whole wheat pita with tomato sauce, part-skim mozzarella, and a vegetable of your choice and cooking until the cheese melts.

Perfect Portion: A serving of cheese is a scant 1 ounce (30 g).
For hard cheese, that’s about the size of two board-game dice. Cheese calorie counts range from a low of about 72 per serving for part-skim mozzarella to a high of about 130 per serving for Parmesan.

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest