It’s no secret that cheese isn’t the healthiest snack out there. Despite being a great source of calcium and vitamins, it is also high in fat, sodium and calories. There’s a reason why dishes such as mac and cheese or grilled cheese are indulgent comfort foods. But those oozy, gooey, melty strings of cheese… Cheese as a food is just unbeatable—and there are even a few types out there that are actually healthy for you.
According to registered dietician nutritionist Sara Haas, it’s not hard to find cheeses that are good for you—but don’t forget to exercise restraint as well. While soft cheeses typically have less fat than hard cheeses, there’s usually not a massive difference in fat content.
“That means it’s all about balance,” Haas told USA Today. “By balance I mean choosing cheeses with great flavor, so that you’ll need less. Balance also means not over-indulging and learning other ways to use cheese instead of sitting down with a hunk of it.”
When you just haaave to have your cheese, though, here are a few great choices for your taste buds and your waistline.
Salty, briny feta is one of the healthiest cheeses you can eat. It’s strongly flavored, so you won’t need to eat as much to tamp down those cravings, and it has four grams of protein per ounce. Part of the much-lauded Mediterranean diet, feta is also usually made from goat’s milk, so if you’re sensitive to lactose it can be a good option.
Sharp cheddar is a classic pick, and luckily, it makes the list of healthy cheeses. Clocking in at 110 calories per ounce, it has seven grams of protein and nine grams of fat. Try and pick a more aged cheddar—the bold flavor will help you feel satisfied even if you only eat a little bit.
My personal favorite kind of cheese (heaven will definitely just be a bowl of grated parm that I can live in), parmesan is a great alternative to other, less nutritionally-dense toppings. You can use it in everything from omelets to popcorn (instead of butter and salt) to get a burst of salty, umami flavor. Parmesan cheese is a great example of why calorie counting isn’t the best way to a healthy diet. Yes, parm has 112 calories per ounce, but it also has more than eight grams of satisfying protein.
This creamy, spreadable cheese packs a serious nutritional punch. Despite tasting decadent, it clocks in at 75 calories per ounce, but has more protein (5.3 grams) than feta and the same amount of fat. The sharp, creamy taste can even replace heavy cream or butter in pasta sauces, and the high protein content makes it a smart choice for vegetarians or people looking to eat less meat.