Food & Nutrition

Can You Eat Cheese and Still Lose Weight?

OK, we won’t keep you in suspense: The answer is a definitive yes. Read on as nutrition pros explain how cheese can work as part of your weight-loss journey, and discover 54 delicious recipes for nine popular varieties.
Published March 17, 2017

From bubbling mozzarella on a fresh pizza pie to nutty Parmigiano-Reggiano sprinkled on your movie-night popcorn, nothing quite compares to cheese. But if you've recently started your weight-loss journey, you might be wondering if you need to cut out the creamy, crumbly, gooey delights of cheese. Wonder no longer.

Not only is cheese delicious; it can also totally work in a healthy pattern of eating—even the full-fat kind and even when you’re following a weight-loss program, assures Caroline Passerrello, M.S., RDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and an instructor at the University of Pittsburgh. While specifics vary by type (more on all that in a moment), cheese, in general, delivers key nutrients, including phosphorus and vitamins A and D, she says. And many varieties are good or excellent sources of calcium and protein, the latter being an important factor for satiety.

Unless you have a milk allergy and/or are lactose-intolerant, there’s really no health reason to ban cheese from your diet, Passerrello says. If you are in one of those groups, nondairy cheese might be something to consider. Otherwise, it’s totally fine to enjoy cheese!


Can eating cheese help you lose weight?


While upping your cheese intake won’t shift the scale on its own, some research suggests that eating more dairy products could be helpful as part of a broader weight-loss program. One recent review published in Nutrition Reviews etermined that as part of an energy-restricted diet, increased dairy consumption resulted in greater weight loss. The protein in dairy may partly explain why: A 2013 study found that higher protein intake may help preserve muscle mass as pounds come off. Protein also makes meals more satisfying.

At some point, you may have stumbled across an internet theory that the probiotics found in some cheeses can fire up metabolism and melt belly fat. Alas, that is a myth. There’s no evidence that any single food can target belly fat, explains Angela Goscilo, M.S., R.D., senior manager of nutrition at WW. Not to sound like a broken record, but the same strategies that promote healthy weight loss also support healthier levels of belly fat. If you’re looking to build core strength, consider movements that target the abdominal muscles, like planks.

All this to say: You don’t need to eat more dairy products to lose weight. The message here is that if you enjoy cheese, there’s no need to stress that a slice of Swiss or a few cubes of feta will derail your efforts. Lasting weight loss is a result of sustainable lifestyle changes, including shifting to a healthy pattern of eating, getting regular physical activity, and prioritizing sleep.


Isn’t cheese high in unhealthy fat?


It can be, but hear us out: While many non-skim varieties do contain saturated fat, which public health guidelines recommend limiting, this doesn’t mean you have to avoid cheese completely, Goscilo explains. Just keep an eye on serving sizes and be mindful of the rest of your diet. To make room for the saturated fat in cheese, think of places where you can swap in sources of unsaturated fat—the healthy kind linked to reduced risk of heart disease. Maybe that means using avocado in place of mayo on a sandwich, or grilling salmon for dinner in lieu of steak. You can also reach for low-fat or reduced-fat cheeses, Goscilo says, both of which can support a weight-loss journey.


How to enjoy cheese on a weight-loss journey


OK, so at this point, we’ve established that all foods, including cheese, can be part of a healthy pattern of eating that supports weight loss. Now let’s talk flavor, which is an overlooked benefit of cheese, Passerrello says. Cheese can bring a complex, bold taste to almost any dish, whether you’re adding a generous grating of Pecorino Romano to zucchini noodles or a scattering of blue cheese crumbles on a simple arugula salad. Cheeses with stronger flavors can be wonderful choices because a little goes a long way, Passerrello explains.


Looking for something light?


If you’ve ever tried to find lower-calorie cheese that actually tastes like cheese, you know the struggle is real. Enter WW Light String Cheese—perfect for snacking—and WW Reduced Fat Mexican Blend Shredded Cheese, a must for your next Taco Tuesday. The best part? They’re both comparable in taste to their higher-fat counterparts and have only 60 to 80 calories and 2 to 3 Points® per serving. Find them at a store near you!


9 types of cheese: Nutrition facts and tasting notes


We’re not suggesting you become a cheesemonger overnight, but it can be helpful to know a little about the different types and some ways to enjoy them. Before you hit the cheese aisle, here’s the lowdown on nine of our favorite varieties, along with 54 delicious recipes.


1. Parmigiano-Reggiano

A far cry from the bottled grated imitators, this is a regulated product from northern Italy; only wheels that meet strict guidelines are stamped "Parmigiano-Reggiano." As the cheese ages, Parmigiano's texture gets harder and crumblier, and its flavor sharper and nuttier with shadings of salt, sweetness, and spice. (Parmesan is a domestic version of Parmigiano-Reggiano that may lack some of this dimension.) Grate Parmigiano-Reggiano over pasta or soup, shave it onto arugula salad, or enjoy small chunks with honey-drizzled pear slices or balsamic vinegar for dipping. You’ll add bold flavor and get some protein and calcium.

2. Pecorino Romano

Like its cousin Parmigiano-Reggiano, Pecorino Romano is often grated over pasta (and is also delicious in small amounts with fruit and honey). The cheese is hard and grainy with a slightly oily consistency. Its sharp, salty flavor packs a punch, so you don't need much to enjoy the taste. This cheese is made from sheep's milk—look for a sheep's-head logo and the words "Pecorino Romano" on the rind to ensure you're getting the real thing. A two-tablespoon serving is a good source of protein, calcium, and phosphorus.

3. Feta

A zesty sheep's-milk cheese, feta is made all over the world but is considered a Greek cheese. Depending on where it's made (wonderful versions also come from France and Bulgaria), feta might be sour or tangy, creamy or crumbly. Compared to other cheeses, it's relatively low-fat, and each single-ounce serving is a good source of protein. Buy feta packed in brine—it dries out quickly when exposed to air—and if you find it too salty, soak it briefly in plain water. Feta is fantastic crumbled into salads, cooked vegetables, grains, omelets, and casseroles and in traditional Greek dishes, like spanakopita (spinach pie).

4. Goat cheese

There are dozens of varieties of goat cheese from all over the world, but all fall into two categories: fresh and aged. Younger cheeses are milder and creamier—so if you're going for the best bang for your Points, consider choosing an aged variety, which will have a more pronounced, salty tang. Chèvre is the French word for "goat"; cheese labeled “chèvre” is made in the French tradition, regardless of where it's from. Use goat cheese in salads (try it gently warmed) or quiche, stir it into sauces, or melt it atop baked potatoes. Nutritionally, each one-ounce serving is a good source of protein and vitamin A and an excellent source of calcium.

5. Blue cheese

Nearly every cheese-producing country has its own famed variety of this pungent specimen: Roquefort (France), Cabrales (Spain), Gorgonzola (Italy), Stilton (England), Maytag (United States). They all share bluish-green moldy veining and an assertive, salty flavor, but each has its own distinct bite, depending on which animal's milk is used: cow, sheep, or goat. Try blue cheese in salads and omelets, or melt it onto a burger. Like many other varieties of cheese, one ounce of blue cheese is a good source of protein and calcium.

6. Cheddar

Cheddar refers to both the village in England where the cheese originated and a technique called cheddaring, which imparts a distinct dry texture. As the cheese ages, its flavor becomes quite sharp. Though cheddar cheese is made worldwide, English farmhouse cheddar is the most sought-after—it's delicious savored on its own. A good source of protein and calcium per one-ounce serving, cheddar pairs well with everything from apples and pears to crusty French bread and crackers—and is even great shredded in a Mexican blend and sprinkled on nachos.

7. Gouda

Gouda originated in the Netherlands and is now produced pretty much everywhere. Garden-variety Gouda is super mellow. If you find it too bland, aged varieties may be worth seeking out. Deep caramel in color, aged Gouda has hints of butterscotch and spice. A one-ounce serving of Gouda is a good source f protein and an excellent source of calcium.

8. Gruyère

You might know this Swiss cheese as the basis of fondue. Authentic Gruyère has "Switzerland" stamped on the rind. Young Gruyère’s flavor is nutty and almost fruity; as it ages, it becomes more forceful and earthy. This is an extremely versatile cheese that can be grated into salads, sliced with apples or pears, or melted into dishes like French onion soup. It’s a good source of protein and an excellent source of calcium per one-ounce serving.

9. Mozzarella

Mozzarella is a stretched cheese curd that originated in Italy and was first made with milk from Mediterranean buffalo. While you can still find buffalo-based varieties (mozzarella di bufala), you’re more likely to see cow’s-milk mozzarella—or a blend of the two—at your local grocery store. Fresh mozzarella has a soft texture and a creamy, mild flavor; it’s often sold packed in water or whey. Low-moisture mozzarella is firmer and melts better than the fresh version, which is why it’s preferred for pizza. You can find this type as blocks, in pre-shredded bags, or as cheese sticks. A one-ounce serving of either type makes a good source of protein and calcium.

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This article was reviewed for accuracy in November 2021 by Dominique Adair, M.S., R.D., senior manager of behavior change coaching and experiences at WW. The WW Science Team is a dedicated group of experts who ensure all our solutions are rooted in the best possible research.


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