What It Is

Some people can turn down a lava cake without thinking twice. A pile of jelly beans doesn’t tempt them in the least, and they'll literally watch a scoop of Häagen-Dazs melt without feeling the urge to lick a drip. But put a brick of salty, fatty Parmesan in front of them, and the story changes completely: They show no restraint and eat nibble after nibble and wedge after wedge.

Just like sweets, Parmesan and other rich cheeses hit the spot for many of us. Cheese isn't a superfood, and since full-fat varieties also tend to be high in calories and sodium, I don't usually recommend them for their health benefits. But there are some good nutritional reasons for occasionally enjoying a slice, sprinkle or spread.

The Dirty Deets

Full-fat cheese can be made from cow, goat, sheep or buffalo milk. Although different varieties have somewhat different nutritional profiles, the average ounce of cheese contains 100 calories, 6 grams of saturated fat (25 percent of your daily needs) and 6 grams of protein. An ounce is roughly the size of a tube of lipstick, four dice, a standard deli slice or one-quarter of a cup (for shredded cheese).

  • Research has linked modest cheese consumption to a number of health benefits, including better sleep and healthier teeth, bones and skin. The conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) found in cheese is also associated with the prevention of ovarian and breast cancers
  • Cheese is a great source of iron, protein, zinc, riboflavin, phosphorus and vitamin B12 -- and the fats found in cheese help the body absorb these nutrients more easily.
  • Research suggests that full-fat cheese and other dairy products -- like ice cream and whole milk -- may promote a healthy pregnancy and fertility in women.
  • Cheese is super satisfying! The luxurious texture, fat and flavor help you feel full. Low-fat versions don’t do that as well.

How To Chow Down

I’ll tell you what you already know: Moderation is key! A well-placed sprinkle of a decadent cheese is the perfect touch to take your healthful fare to the next level of delish. Think of a conventional house salad. A sprinkle of blue cheese, Parm or feta takes the predictable and makes it special.

  • You can make any of your favorite cheesy indulgences -- grilled cheese, creamy Alfredo, stringy pizza -- healthier yet still satisfying. The trick is to choose a cheese with a strong flavor. A little bit of goat feta or crumbly Parmesan will satisfy your craving better than a handful of mild mozzarella.
  • The versatility of cheese makes it perfect for any meal or snack. All you need is a brick of cheddar to whip up a fabulous bowl of cheddar-cheese grits, a batch of buckwheat cheese straws or an amazing pear-and-cheddar pie.

In The Know

Fear not the full-fat cheese, but for heaven’s sake, show some self-control! Better to treat yourself to an ounce of the yummy stuff than to go for the less delish, less satisfying low-fat version. Don’t believe me? Ask your cheesemonger.

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