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Heart Health

Cheese and other dairy products are among the foods most likely to raise a person’s cholesterol level. The extent of the increase will depend on the type of cheese.

However, cheese also offers some nutritional benefits as it contains calcium and vitamins. By choosing low-fat cheeses and limiting themselves to moderate quantities, people can continue to eat cheese as part of a healthful diet.

In this article, we look at how eating cheese can affect a person’s cholesterol levels and which kinds of cheese are best.

How much cholesterol is in cheese?

Like other dairy products and many animal foods, most types of cheese are high in cholesterol and saturated fat. The cholesterol and saturated fat content vary depending on the kind of cheese.

The following table provides the total amounts of saturated fat and cholesterol that specific cheeses contain, according to the USDA Food Composition Database:

Cheese type Measurement Saturated fat (g) Cholesterol (mg)
Cheddar 1 cup 24.9 131
Swiss 1 cup 24.1 123
American cheese spread 1 cup 18.7 77
Mozzarella 1 cup 15.6 88
Parmesan 1 cup 15.4 86
Ricotta, whole milk 1 cup 8.0 61
Ricotta, part skim milk 1 cup 6.1 38
Cream 1 tbsp 2.9 15
Cottage cream 4 oz 1.9 19
Low fat cottage, 2% 4 oz 1.4 14
Non-fat or fat-free 1 serving 0 5

As the table shows, low-fat and reduced-fat cheeses have a much lower fat content.

Anyone who is worried about their cholesterol level should check nutrition labels before buying foods as the nutritional content will vary between products and brands.

It is important to be mindful of portion size, since eating more than the serving size on the nutrition label will increase the intake of each nutrient, including saturated fat.

Does cheese raise cholesterol levels?

A variety of cheeses on a wooden table for article about cholesterol.
The saturated fat in cheese may raise cholesterol levels.

According to the National Cancer Institute, cheese is the top food source of cholesterol-raising fat in the American diet.

Cheese is high in cholesterol, but, according to the USDA Dietary Guidelines from 2015, there is no clear link between the cholesterol-rich foods that a person eats and their blood cholesterol levels.

Instead, it is the saturated fat in cheese that is responsible for raising cholesterol levels.

However, the research is mixed. A study from 2015 found no relationship between eating dairy products and heart disease after the age of 55. In fact, this study found that people who ate high-fat dairy products were less likely to die of a stroke.

A small-scale 2015 study compared people who ate a low-fat cheese or a Gouda-like cheese with a control group who limited their cheese intake for 8 weeks. The researchers found no difference between the groups’ blood cholesterol levels.

A 2017 study found a complicated relationship between dairy consumption and health risk factors.

While cheese can play a role in raising cholesterol levels, in moderation it can be included as part of a varied and healthful diet. A person may wish to talk to a dietician about how their dietary choices might affect their cholesterol levels.

Should you avoid cheese if you have high cholesterol?

Because the research is mixed, it is not possible to make a general recommendation that people with high cholesterol should refrain from eating cheese.

Instead, it is essential to consider the diet as a whole. Other foods may either lower or raise cholesterol when people eat them with cheese.

For example, a high carbohydrate diet may increase cardiovascular risk factors, including cholesterol, in people who eat full-fat dairy products such as cheese.

Cholesterol is not the only factor to consider when eating cheese. Most cheeses are high in sodium, which can elevate blood pressure. Cheese is also a high-fat food, so people who are trying to lose weight may want to reduce their cheese intake.

People who want to eat cheese may need to make other adjustments to their diet, such as reducing the sodium they get from processed foods or cutting back on red meat.

A doctor or dietitian can help to create a diet plan consisting of meals that taste good, work well with a person’s lifestyle, and reduce their risk of heart problems.

Understanding cholesterol

High cholesterol may cause atherosclerosis. Gloved hands of doctor holding model of artery or vein with build up plaque.
High cholesterol may cause atherosclerosis.

Cholesterol is a waxy substance that is present in many foods, including dairy products and meat. The body also manufactures cholesterol in the liver.

The body needs some cholesterol to function, but, if too much cholesterol accumulates in the blood, it can clog arteries, raise blood pressure, and put people at higher risk of heart attack and other heart conditions.

There are two types of cholesterol in the blood. High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol particles are larger and are sometimes called ‘good’ cholesterol. HDL cholesterol can help to remove low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, or ‘bad’ cholesterol.

A person who has high HDL cholesterol and low LDL cholesterol will have a lower risk of heart disease.

In 2015 the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee changed their recommendation for cholesterol intake, stating, “cholesterol is not considered a nutrient of concern for overconsumption.” So rather than focusing on limiting cholesterol intake to a specific number, it is important to cultivate a healthful lifestyle and eat a wide range of foods.

Many factors alongside diet can affect a person’s blood cholesterol levels. These include being overweight, a family history of heart disease and high cholesterol, smoking, and a sedentary lifestyle. This means that it is best to focus on cultivating a healthful lifestyle rather than just reducing cholesterol intake.

Summary

People with high cholesterol, coronary artery disease, and other heart health risk factors should discuss their diet and lifestyle with a doctor, and possibly with a dietitian who specializes in heart health.

A wide range of individual factors may impact on blood cholesterol levels and heart health. For example, a person who eats a healthful diet overall may experience fewer health effects from eating cheese than someone who eats other foods that are high in saturated or trans fats.

Cheese can offer health benefits due to the calcium and vitamins it contains, but it also presents some risks. As with most other foods, it is best to consume it in moderation.

It is possible for cheese to be part of a heart-friendly diet, even for people with heart disease, if the diet consists primarily of low-calorie foods, including a variety of fruits and vegetables.

This information is designed for educational purposes only and should not be used in any other manner. This information is not intended to substitute for informed medical advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease without consulting with a qualified health care provider. A consultation with your health care professional is the proper method to address your health concerns. You are encouraged to consult your health care provider with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your condition. Rapid advances in medicine may cause information contained here to become outdated, invalid or subject to debate. Accuracy cannot be guaranteed.

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