Cheese is always a hot topic when it comes to dieting.
It contains good amounts of particular vitamins and minerals as well as a good source of protein, but is typically higher in saturated fat and sodium.
If you’re following a Mediterranean diet, you might have seen vague comments on how much cheese to eat, but nothing anything concrete.
This article will cover everything about eating cheese on the Mediterranean diet, whether you can lose weight eating cheese and review popular types of cheeses.
How Much Cheese Can You Eat on the Mediterranean Diet?
The Mediterranean diet focuses on eating more fruit, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and healthy fats. Dairy products like cheese are eaten less than these sorts of foods, but more than foods like red meat.
Although no exact limits are given on the Mediterranean diet, try and limit dairy overall to 2 cups a day. That could mean a serving of Greek yogurt with breakfast and some cheese added onto your dinner, for example.
The Mediterranean diet pyramid below gives a good illustration of how much cheese you should be eating on a Mediterranean diet. A good rule of thumb is a couple of servings per week.
Is Heating Cheese Healthy?
Cheese is a mixed bag when it comes to health, with both pros and cons. Nutritional profiles also vary quite a lot depending on the cheese as well.
For example, mozzarella contains 85 calories and 6.3 grams of fat per ounce, whereas cheddar, which has 114 calories and 9.4 grams of fat.
The scientific research on cheese also lacks some clarity. For example, some studies also find protective benefits of full-fat dairy, which may be because they contain a nutrient called linoleic acid, which can protect heart health.
However, low-fat dairy and cheese is usually recommended on a Mediterranean diet because it has higher saturated fats.
Ultimately, more research is needed, but the points below weigh up both the pros and cons.
- Cheese is fairly nutritious – most cheeses contain good sources of particular vitamins such as vitamin A and B12, zinc, calcium, phosphorus and riboflavin.
- Good source of protein – cheese can help you meet your protein requirements without eating so much meat. There should be a few vegetarian days when following the Mediterranean diet, so adding some extra cheese to your meals can help boost your protein intake.
- High in calories. Cheese is calorie-dense. Although this can vary on the cheese, a good rule of thumb will be about 100 calories per ounce. It is also very easy to indulge or add extra cheese to meals, causing the calorie contents to rise considerably.
- High in saturated fat. Cheese typically contains lots of saturated fat, which can increase cholesterol. However, some experts and studies show minimal or no effect.
- High in salt. Many cheeses contain lots of sodium, which can be a problem for people with high blood pressure.
Generally speaking, some cheese can be part of a healthy diet, but if you need to consider some of the issues above, it’s best not to overindulge.
If you’re still not sure whether to eat cheese, speak to a registered dietitian.
Can I Lose Weight on the Mediterranean Diet Eating Cheese?
Because cheese contains a lot of fat and calories, many people are likely to think that you can’t eat cheese if you want to lose weight.
It’s important to remember that you lose weight depending on how many calories you consume in total, not just in isolation. This means you can enjoy cheese occasionally, just be sure to not each too much of it and watch your total calorie intake for the day.
You can expect to consume anywhere between 75 – 115 calories depending on the type of cheese. However, if you’re eating cheese in smaller portions, then the difference between calories isn’t as prominent.
There aren’t many studies that look at associations between eating cheese and weight loss, but there are more that considered dairy products as a whole.
One study found that increased dairy intake as part of a calorie-restricted diet resulted in more bodyweight fat loss whilst reducing the amount of lean mass loss in 18–50-year-old adults (1).
Another study stated that whole-fat dairy foods did not cause weight gain and that overall dairy consumption increases lean body mass and reduces body fat (2).
Cottage Cheese on the Mediterranean Diet
Cottage cheese contains a lot of protein with few calories, making it one of the healthiest cheeses to choose on the Mediterranean diet.
It is also a great choice if you need to lose weight due to its protein content. High intake of protein, eating foods such as cottage cheese, can help promote feelings of fullness, naturally reduce your calorific intake and helping with weight loss (3, 4).
The nutrition of 100g (about 3.5 ounces) of lowfat (2% milkfat) cottage cheese (5).
- Calories: 84
- Fat: 2.3g
- Sodium: 321mg
- Carbohydrates: 4.3g
- Fiber: 0g
- Sugars: 4.1g
- Protein: 11g
- Calcium: 111mg
Cottage cheese is packed with nutrients such as phosphorus, calcium, riboflavin, and vitamin B12.
Goat Cheese on the Mediterranean Diet
Goat cheese is a delicious addition to many recipes on the Mediterranean diet. Because it contains a lot of calories and fat, it is only recommended to be eaten in small servings.
However, even within a small serving, it contains a good amount of nutrients. A one ounce (28g) of goat cheese provides the following nutrition (6):
- Calories: 102
- Protein: 6g
- Fat: 8g
- Vitamin A: 8% of the RDI
- Riboflavin (vitamin B2): 11% of the RDI
- Calcium: 8% of the RDI
- Phosphorus: 10% of the RDI
- Copper: 8% of the RDI
- Iron: 3% of the RDI
A serving of goat cheese delivers 6 grams of filling protein along with a powerful combination of calcium, phosphorus and copper — nutrients that are essential for healthy bones (7).
Cheddar Cheese on the Mediterranean Diet
Cheddar cheese is one of the most beloved cheeses in the US for snacking and cooking. It contains a good amount of protein, but is also a cheese that is higher in calories and fat, so it should be eaten in smaller quantities.
However, it can still be eaten on the Mediterranean diet. One ounce (28 grams) of whole-milk cheddar contains (8):
- Calories: 115
- Protein: 7 grams
- Fat: 9 grams
- Carbs: 1 gram
- Sodium: 180 mg — 8% of the RDI
- Calcium: 20% of the RDI
It is also a good source of vitamin K2 and one study found women who consumed more vitamin K2 had a lower risk of developing heart disease (9).
Cream Cheese on the Mediterranean Diet
There are many different varieties of cream cheese, such as regular, whipped, flavored and double-cream. This means it’s health benefits can vary depending on the type and brand.
In general, cream cheese is lower in protein and higher in fat and carbs. This makes it one of the less healthy options of cheese to choose from.
However, it can still be eaten on the Mediterranean diet, but it’s best to limit it to small quantities.
In terms of the nutritional makeup of regular cream cheese, the nurtition below is for 1 ounce (28g) of regular cream cheese (10):
- Calories: 99
- Protein: 2 grams
- Fat: 10 grams
- Carbs: 2 grams
- Fiber: 0 grams
- Vitamin A: 10% of the Daily Value (DV)
- Riboflavin (vitamin B2): 5% of the DV
Although it contains a good amount of vitamin A and some vitamin B2, a 1 ounce serving only contains 2g of protein. This is substantially lower than other soft cheeses, which typically have 6g or more of protein per 1 ounce serving.
Mozzarella Cheese on the Mediterranean Diet
Mozzarella is a great choice of cheese on the Mediterranean diet. It is lower in calories and sodium than most other cheeses and works especially well in things like salads.
One ounce (28 grams) of full-fat mozzarella contains (11):
- Calories: 85
- Protein: 6g
- Fat: 6 g
- Carbs: 1g
- Sodium: 176 mg – 7% of the Reference Daily Intake (RDI)
- Calcium: 14% of the RDI
Feta Cheese on the Mediterranean Diet
Feta cheese is great choice of cheese on the Mediterranean diet, with less fat and fewer calories than other cheeses. It is originally from Greece and has traditionally been used in Mediterranean cuisines.
It is often packaged in brine to keep its freshness, but this can cause it be high in sodium.
One ounce (28 grams) of full-fat feta cheese provides (12):
- Calories: 80
- Protein: 6 grams
- Fat: 5 grams
- Carbs: 1 gram
- Sodium: 370 mg — 16% of the RDI
- Calcium: 10% of the RDI
Feta is a good source of calcium, riboflavin, zinc, selenium and phosphorus.
Ricotta Cheese on the Mediterranean Diet
Ricotta cheese is often thought of as a lighter version of cottage cheese.
Although the nutrition of ricotta cheese can vary depending on whether it’s low-fat, non-fat, or regular, ricotta cheese is an excellent source of many nutrients, such as calcium, selenium and phosphorus.
It can be eaten on the Mediterranean diet and since it is less calorific-dense than some of the other cheeses, can be eaten in higher quantities without adding too many extra calories.
A 1/2-cup (124g) serving of whole-milk ricotta contains (13):
- Calories: 180
- Protein: 12 grams
- Fat: 12 grams
- Carbs: 8 grams
- Sodium: 300 mg — 13% of the RDI
- Calcium: 20% of the RDI
Ricotta cheese also contains all the essential amino acids humans require from food, as the protein is in the form of whey. This makes it an excellent plant-based protein to consume (14).
To Sum Up
Eating cheese on the Mediterranean diet is allowed, but it’s recommended to not go overboard and not eat too much.
All types of cheeses are allowed, but some vary in calorie content, protein and nutritional profile. High protein, low calorie cheeses like cottage cheese are particularly healthy.
Choose your favorite cheese and add it in smaller amounts to dishes like salads and pastas for extra flavor and nutrition.