Not sure what to reach for at dinners, parties, or the grocery store? Opt for the varieties that can build muscle.
Brittany Smith and Men's Fitness Editors 1 / 15
Yes, you can have your cheese and stay fit, too.
According to sports dietitian Christina Strudwick, MS, C.S.S.D., founder of The Fueled Athlete, “Cheese can be part of a healthy lifestyle when it’s unprocessed and eaten in moderation.” Just think natural (like everything from our favorite family of cheesemakers—the BelGioiosos).
That’s not all. “Cheese has lots of nutrients, like filling protein and bone-building calcium,” says dietitian Amy Gorin, R.D.N.
Its biggest plus is by far its protein content. Swiss, cheddar, and mozzarella have 7–8 grams per ounce, which can help pack on muscle. Hard cheeses can also lower blood pressure—especially Grana Padano, a new study has found. And ricotta is packed with whey, the most satiating of all proteins.
Finally, always go for quality cheeses. Just watch the quantity, and err on the side of “Damn, that tasted great,” not “Damn, I can’t buckle my belt.”
"The harder cheeses tend to contain more protein per serving," Strudwick says. Here, she's indicated the varieties highest and lowest in protein down to grams per ounce so you can snack smart.
Properly known as Parmigiano Reggiano, this hard cheese has the highest protein content of all cheeses. It's typically grated over soups and pastas; but when shaved, it can serve as a salty, nutty-tasting snack.
Another hard cheese usually grated and sprinkled on dishes, Romano has a sharp, salty flavor. Italian Romano, called Pecorino, is made from from ewe's milk and has a stronger bite, while domestic versions, made from cow's milk, are milder.
This yellow cow's milk cheese is actually higher in the vitamn K2—a nutrient involved in blood coagulation, bone metabolism, and regulation of cellular functions—than most other food sources. It has a light, sometimes sweet taste.
Full of flavor, crumbled blue cheese mixed with plain Greek yogurt and hot sauce can take the place of calorie-dense blue cheese dressing and dips. The blue marbling is due to mold cultures (that are totally healthy to eat).
Ricotta is light, fluffy, and sweet, making it the perfect topping for whole wheat toast. It's also loaded with vitamin A, which can boost immune function, skin health, and keep your heart, kidneys, lungs, and sperm healthy.
Cottage cheese has a high amount of casein, the slow-digesting dairy protein, which raises blood amino acid levels slowly and keeps them elevated longer than if you'd eat whey protein. It also has live cultures, which makes for a healthy gut. This will help you break down and absorb nutrients better—exactly what you need to grow big and strong.