Whether it is crumbled over fresh arugula, melted over a chicken parmesan, or paired perfectly with a luscious glass of red, cheese has become a staple ingredient on many people’s grocery lists. It is a sultry comfort food that has the magic power to pair with almost anything we choose to eat.
Cheese is an ingredient that has been around almost as long as civilization itself. It has consistently been one of the trendiest foods, globally, not only because it’s delicious, but also because it is a product that gives us the protein and fat that we need for energy, without as much of the sugar (lactose) that we find in milk (which has not been deemed the easiest thing for humans to digest).
So why is it that people, looking to lose weight, are so timid around this internationally respected, ancient ingredient? Perhaps it is because cheese contains, that ever-dreaded word, ‘fats’, or that we just cannot believe that something so savory and comforting could be so darn delicious. While many diets out there may agree with these claims, and tell us to avoid it, I am excited to tell you that there is now a diet, called the Ketogenic diet, that argues quite the opposite, saying that the right portions of cheese is absolutely okay to eat while achieving your most difficult of diet goals.
What is The Ketogenic Diet?
Better known as the Keto diet, the ketogenic diet is one that focuses on the consumption of foods that are low in carbohydrates and high in fats. A high-fat diet such as this, gives us all the nutrients we need to not continuously feel hungry, to have prolonged energy and, most importantly, it allows for the embracing of our favorite comfort food, cheese!
On the Keto diet, we get to enjoy the fattier foods that can sometimes scare us away. Eating these foods allows us to control the cravings that we may get for the ‘bad’ fatty foods, such as chocolate, candy, or chips. Now, of course, this doesn’t mean you can have a supper consisting of butter and bacon, but it does mean that you don’t need to lock your Gouda away in a vault, for special occasions only.
This reduction of carbohydrates, and focus on fats, transitions the body into a metabolic state that is called Ketosis. One reaches Ketosis is when the body becomes very productive at burning fat for energy, instead of carbs. This diet has been proven to provide significant reductions in both blood sugar and insulin levels, and to give high levels of both mental and physical energy.
What Cheeses are Low in Carbohydrates?
The older the cheese is, the less sugar it has, so indulge in those rich and delicious cheeses, such as aged cheddar and aged gouda, which have 0 grams of carbohydrates each. Enjoy that melt-in-your-mouth texture of blue cheese? Feel free to top off your salads with a savory crumble, at only 2.3 grams of carbohydrates per 100 grams. Popular kinds of cheese, such as brie (0.5 grams) and Camembert (0.5 grams) are also great low-carb options.
Feel like expanding your cheese vocabulary, and developing those taste buds? Here are some more cheeses that are delicious options while following Keto diet:
Muenster is a semi-soft cow’s milk cheese, most popular for its mild flavor and smooth texture. Because it melts so well, it is a great substitution for a dish such as chicken parmesan, at only 1.1 grams of carbohydrates compared to parmesan’s 4.1 grams.
A personal favorite, Burrata hails from Italy, and is a refreshing, very soft cow’s (occasionally buffalo’s) milk cheese. It has 0 grams of carbohydrates per 100 gram serving. The outside of burrata is a mozzarella, however the inside is mixed with a heavy cream, creating a delightful and unique texture. Burrata pairs very well with other Italian ingredients, such as tomatoes and balsamic. Try it in a Caprese-inspired salad!
Consisting of 0 grams of carbs, Pecorino Romano is another great alternative to Parmesan. Because of its hard texture, and sharp, salty flavors, Pecorino is fantastic to grate over a fresh cauliflower or broccoli casserole. Just make sure to keep an eye out on how much of this cheese you use, as the saltiness can go from zero to a hundred quite quickly.
There are many different types of sheep’s milk cheese, such as Etorki, Ossau-Iraty, Pag cheese, but one of the oldest (since Ancient Greece) and most popular is Feta. Like its sister cheese, Pecorino (also sheep’s milk) Feta has 0 grams of carbohydrates and is fantastic as both a topping and a stuffing to many other ingredients. Try putting it in an omelet, with some spinach, or stuff it in a chicken breast, with some prosciutto.
If you are a fan of that gooey goodness that some cheeses provide, I would strongly recommend this decadent, zero-carb, Swisstreat. Gruyere is traditionally served on top of a steamy onion soup, which you can re-create without the bread, for the Keto diet. Melted gruyere is also fantastic option to add on top of stuffed peppers and mushrooms. Feeling French? Melt this over some ham for breakfast!
I have saved the best for last. From Spain, Herreno cheese a meal on its own due to its variety of both flavors and textures. Herreno is made of 85% goat’s cheese (0.1 grams of carbs) which makes it a very low-carb cheese. The wheel of this cheese is smoked over wood, usually from fig trees. Herreno is meant to be served grilled, so that it keeps its crispy exterior and soft interior. Enjoy a bountiful array of textures while topping the cheese off with a sweet chutney that you may also use with brie, for example, or honey.
Other options that are on the comfortable side of the carb scale (per 100 grams serving):
Asiago Cheese: 2.9 grams.
Colby Cheese: 3.6 grams
Fontina Cheese: 0 grams
Gorgonzola: 0 grams
Gouda Cheese: 3.3 grams
Parmesan Cheese: 4.1
Havarti Cheese: 0 grams
Manchego Cheese: 0 grams
Monterey Cheese: 1 gram
Mozzarella Cheese: 3.3 grams
Provolone Cheese: 3.5 grams
Swiss cheese: 5 grams
Unique Cheeses that may tickle your fancy
Though camel cheese runs a little high in carbs, at 5 grams, it’s going to have the best bang for your buck, so to speak. As in, the extra carbohydrates may be worth consuming due to its extremely healthy benefits otherwise. It has higher levels of protein, iron, and Vitamin C, than most other cheeses, and it is known to help both circulation and helps in preventing Anemia.
Dairy from Camels is very popular in regions in and around North Africa, where camels are commonly seen as much as sheep may be in the West. Their products are consumed less-so for taste and more for the health benefits. It is known in these regions to supply very high levels of potassium, Iron, and Vitamin C. It is also considered to be an aphrodisiac, pairing with the phrase, “One glass a day-five times at night”.
This luxurious cheese runs a little high in price in the West, and may be difficult to find as it has only recently been introduced in North America, but its popular freshness and salty bite, in the eastis bound to catch on in the West very soon.
Cheese curds, or more commonly, ‘squeaky cheese’, is a cheese chiefly found in Quebec, Canada, but has become popularized all over Canada. This fun cheese- when you bite into it- creates a squeak-like sound, due to moisture going into the curd.
Cheese curds have a mild flavor, but they deliver a nice saltiness. At only 3.4 grams of carbohydrates per 100 gram serving, this cheese has become a fantastic snack on its own, with added herbs or spices. Some markets are known to sell exactly this: a bag of bright orange cheese curds that has been soaked in a chili oil perhaps, or a spice rub.
Craving a bit of a crisp? Curds fry extremely well, so add just a touch of that avocado oil, some Cajun seasoning, and go to town!
Drunken Goat Cheese
Yes, I did say Drunken Goat cheese. And it is absolutely everything you would expect with such a name. Goat’s cheese soaked in red wine, what could possibly be better than that?
At 3.5 grams of carbohydrates per 100 gram serving, Drunken Goat cheese (or Murcia Al Vine) is a popular cheese from Spain. This cheese is a fantastic conversation starter at parties, and its color makes for a fantastic, Instagram-worthy, picture.
Because of the cheese’s bathing in red wine, it carries a slight fruity flavor with a bit of tang. Pair this with wine, of course, but it also works well as a contrasting piece on a saltier charcuterie board.
This product is also a great way to start your discovery of goat’s cheese, as it is not as sharp and potent as many other goat’s cheeses.
Can I Eat Cream Cheese on the Keto Diet?
While on the Keto diet, an important thing to remember is that the higher the fat content, the better. So steer clear of those low-fat or one-percent options when it comes to cheese, and dairy in general.
One of the most popular low-fat options that most of us have seen in our local supermarkets is low-fat cream cheese. Feel free to put that light blue, low-fat package right back into the store’s refrigerator, however, and snag the regular cream cheese. Full-fat cream cheese is in the safe zone, at 4.1 grams of carbohydrates per 100 gram serving.
Because this is a cheese that does run a little heavier in carbohydrates, compared to other cheeses, just use it cautiously when stuffing your savory jalapeño poppers.
Other low-fat versions of cheeses to watch carefully are, low-fat Ricotta at 3 grams of carbs, and low-fat or 1% cottage cheese at 6.1 grams (may just want to avoid that one completely).
Substitutions for cream cheese
If 4.1 grams of carbs still has you feeling a little timid around cream cheese, do not fret! There are some fantastic substitutions that can taste just as good!
Crème Fraiche has the tanginess of a sour cream, but with the richness and fullness of a cream cheese. Hailing from France, this spread consists of 45% butterfat and is sourced with bacterial culture. As opposed to other types of creamy spreads from North America, no thickening agents are used in this product, so it is almost only fats, and only has 3 grams of carbs, per 100 gram serving. This is great news for those on the Keto diet, because it means that you can add this rich delight on your fresh berries, in the morning!
Greek yogurt is another great substitute for cream cheese at only 3.5 grams of carbs per 100 grams of yogurt. If you’re not a fan of its’ natural texture, and prefer something more dense, keep the yogurt overnight, in a cheesecloth to strain. If you do not have a cheesecloth, a couple pieces of paper towel can also work to give you a thicker texture in the morning.
Greek yogurt is also a great substitute for sour cream, when it comes to spicy dishes, such as butter chicken. Yogurt is a very common ingredient used in India, for example, where spicier dishes are more frequent.
With only 2 grams of carbohydrates per 100 gram serving, Mascarpone is a fantastic substitute to cream cheese, when you are still craving that bit of sweetness. This Italian cheese is quite acidic, adding ingredients, such as lemon and vinegar, to the whole cream. Mascarpone pairs very well with many fruits, especially cherries. Whipped, it also makes a fantastic substitution to whipped cream.
Other Dairy S
Originating from India, Ghee is a type of butter that is clarified by the removing of milk solids- after melting point- from regular butter. Not only does it have lots of healthy fats, it also contains a great amount of vitamins that give our bones that extra bit of strength.
Ghee is different from butter because, while its’ original form is butter, the milk solids that show up during its’ melting process, are removed. Because the process of making Ghee includes simmering the butter for this longer period of time, it develops a delicious nutty flavor and aroma.
Ghee has a little less carbs that butter does, at 0 grams per 100 grams and, because of its’ unique texture and taste, it can be a fantastic substitute to butter, and a variety of other cooking oils. It has also become a popular option as a coffee additive, amongst Keto-dieters.
Cottage cheese is a very popular substitution to both yogurt and sour cream. It is famous amongst athletes, such as weightlifters and runners, because it has a high protein content. Specifically the protein called Casein, which is known to be long-lasting.
This cheese is also a great option for pregnant women who may be hesitant towards other types of cheese that may not be as safe to eat during those nine months. It is actually an ingredient that is recommended during pregnancy, due to its high amounts of B-12 and phosphorus.
Cottage cheese, per serving of 100 grams, has 3.4 grams of carbohydrates. It also contains high amounts of iron, Magnesium, and Potassium.
Looking for a new way to use your cottage cheese? Try it in a smoothie (it’s especially great with blueberries!) or make this cheese the star of your deviled eggs, which will surely have heads turning.
What If I Am Lactose Intolerant?
Fortunately, the amount of Lactose that is found in certain dairy products, isn’t present in a large assortment of cheeses. In general, cheese that is aged will often have much less lactose in comparison to those which are fresher.
The first thing to look for on any cheese label, if you are lactose intolerant, is the amount of sugar listed. Sugar is found in lactose, so if there is a higher sugar content, then those are cheeses you may want to avoid. For example, cheddar only has .2 grams of sugar whereas feta has closer to 6 grams. Other cheeses that have .5 grams of sugar or less are, Parmesan and Swiss.
Still hesitant about eating cheese? Try the fantastic, protein-heavy, ‘non cheese’, cheese replacement: Cashew Cheese
With only 3 grams of carbs, per one serving (up to 4 people), cashew cheese is a great lactose-free substitute! It is also very easy to make at home. Using a food processor, create a texture that lies somewhere between butter and hummus. If you are struggling with consistency, definitely add some ghee to the mix for smoothness.
Its protein content also holds up to most all dairy cheeses, at an average of 7- 8 grams of protein per ounce.
This rich, nutty cheese can work a base spread to which you can add an array of herbs and spices. It pairs especially well with keto-friendly vegetables such as zucchini and summer squash. Feeling cozy? Curl up with a teaspoon of this in your bailey or decaf coffee.
What Cheeses Should I Avoid?
In general, cheese is a great ingredient to use when on the Ketogenic diet. It is low in carbohydrates, high in fat, and gives us the protein we need to stay energized throughout the day. It helps in producing both muscle mass and strength, no matter your age.
As healthy as some cheeses can be however, there are, of course, some exceptions (sorry!)
Processed Cheese Slices and Spreads
As nostalgic as this cheese may be, it should probably stay off the table for those on the Keto diet. At up to 16 grams of carbohydrates per 100 grams, these types of cheeses are only made up of 50% real cheese. Ingredients such as salt, food dyes, other types of dairy, preservatives, and other artificial ingredients, go into creating the creating of these types of processed ‘cheeses’.
Remember that these were invented when people’s priorities were to preserve food items for as long as possible. This is no longer the world we live in, and we can take more care of fresh, natural ingredients, in our foods.
Common types of processed cheese spreads are:
(per 100 gram serving)
Cheez Whiz: 6 grams
Nacho Cheese Sauce: 7.1 grams
Easy Cheese spray: 6.2 grams
Monterey Jack, Italian mix, sharp cheddar, and Mexican blend are some well- known types of pre-shredded cheeses that most people can find at a local supermarket. The main reason why these cheeses have become so popular is a simple one: convenience. Instead of spending quality time with a grater, buying pre-shredded cheese allows us to simply take it out of a bag, and top off a dish. It also saves you the hassle of washing a few extra dishes, after your meal.
Though it may be convenient, there are a lot of hidden ingredients found in this cheese that are unnatural, and may have you switching over to the other option; a block of cheese.
When you take a glance at the ingredient list on a bag of shredded cheese, you will often find cellulose. This is a common additive to the bags as it absorbs moisture and makes so that the cheese does not stick together. Though there are no carbs in cellulose, on the Keto diet, we want to eat as cleanly as possible and avoid fillers.
One ingredient that makes this cheese especially disruptive to the Keto diet, is potato starch. This additive is extracted from potatoes and carries 10 grams of carbohydrates per table spoon.
Here’s a little tip: keep your block of cheese in the freezer for about a half an hour before shredding, and it won’t stick together so easily!
Potentially Negative Impacts of Cheese
While cheese is great for the Keto diet due to its high fat and low-calorie content, there are some reasons why you may want to keep an eye out when it comes to portioning.
Saturated fat is what makes up for 50% of the fats in most cheeses. It is this fat that can potentially be dangerous for heart health. If you are concerned about heart health, it may be better to consume softer cheeses, such as goat and feta, which have both less calories and fat.
Cheese is also known for its high levels of sodium. Access sodium in a diet can increase blood pressure and can also affect heart health. If this is something that concerns you, some cheeses with low-sodium content are: Swiss, Gruyere, goat, and Ricotta.
Finally, cheese tends to be a very high-calorie food. Some types can reach up to 120 calories for only one ounce! So just use caution when snacking on certain types, such as, Manchego, Gruyere, and Parmesan. A common suggested portion for cheese is about the size of four die.
Go the Extra Mile for Great Cheese
Make Your Own Cheese
When in doubt regarding ingredients in cheese, make your own! This way you are sure not to have any artificial (or processed) additives in your final product. When making your own cheese you control everything that goes into it. This allows for a lot of fun, like adding your own spices and herbs!
As you make your own cheese, you become more connected to organic ingredients. This will have you seeking out the best, natural products that will enhance the quality of your cheese.
Making cheese is a really great hands-on activity that can have you feeling really accomplished. It is also a great way to get children or partners involved in cooking and experiencing food in a respectful way.
Grass-fed cheese comes from cows that graze the whole year, as opposed to being given a processed diet for a large percentage of their lives. Grass feeding makes the cheese so much richer in nutrients, such as omega 3 fats and an array of vitamins.
Grass-fed dairy products, in general, are renowned for having amazing health benefits; from the aiding of inflammation, to the regulation of blood sugar.
Is grass-fed cheese hard to find at your local supermarket? Try visiting your local farms that have small flocks!
Overall, cheese is a healthy and delicious ingredient that pairs well alongside pretty much any Keto-friendly ingredient! With the right portions, it is also a food that will benefit your blood sugar and cholesterol, both you muscle and bone mass, and inflammation.
It is a low-carb addition- or star- to any meal, and has an immense variety of both flavors and textures. It be a substitute for ingredients that may not be Keto-friendly, while providing a long-lasting and natural source of protein.
It is an ingredient that has been popular since the beginning of civilization, and due to its’ many unmeasurable benefits, it will no doubt continue in its’ popularity for forever more.