Cheese please!

Cheese

Whether you want more calcium or you're watching your weight, there's a type of cheese to suit you, says dietitian Emma Stirling.

{A delicious cheese board is always welcome -- whether it's served with drinks or after a meal. And a quick look at your local shops or farmer's market will show there's a growing range of artisan and gourmet choices. But what's the best way to strike a healthy balance? And what are the nutritional differences between varieties?}

​Cheese essentials The level of essential nutrients in cheese varies depending on the type of milk used and the production methods, but the major positive players include calcium, protein, zinc, phosphorus, magnesium, vitamin A, vitamin B2 (riboflavin) and vitamin B12.

​What's a serve? Two cheese slices or 40g counts as a serve of dairy. A simple way to judge this is to eye up a matchbox-sized portion which is 30g to 40g.

​Cheddar and cheddar styles

Cheddar

Go for: Mild cheddar (aged 3 months), matured tasty (aged 3-12 months), vintage (aged over 12 months) and smoked hard cheese.

Fact: Research has shown that eating cheese like cheddar after a meal can help prevent dental decay. Casein (milk protein which is concentrated in cheese), calcium and phosphorus help to neutralise the acid produced by plaque bacteria, as well as helping to form teeth and bone structure. Typical nutrition per 40g: 665kJ; protein 9.8g; total fat 13.1g (sat fat 8.6g); calcium 305mg; sodium 274mg.

​Halloumi

Haloumi

Go for: Soft-textured cheese, typically grilled and served warm.

Fact: Salt is necessary in cheese-making to inhibit bacterial growth, improve structure and enhance flavour. However, go easy on haloumi as it has one of the highest salt contents and is often paired with salty olives and antipasto. Typical nutrition per 40g: 420kJ; protein 8.5g; total fat 6.8g (sat fat 4.4g); calcium 248mg; sodium 1160mg.

Mozzarella

Mozzarella

Go for: Soft-textured cheese with a stringy stretch when melted.

Fact: If you have been advised to cut back on salt, mozzarella is a good choice as it is naturally lower in sodium. For other cheese varieties check sodium counts on the label, or go for reduced-salt varieties. Typical nutrition per 40g: 524kJ; protein 10.4g; total fat 9g (sat fat 5.7g); calcium 242mg; sodium 184mg.

​White rind or mould cheeses

White rind cheeses

Go for: Brie, camembert, double brie and triple cream cheese.

Fact: With a rich, creamy, oozing texture, it's easy to presume that these cheeses have the highest fat content, when in fact the moisture levels means the fat content can be lower than cheddar. Typical nutrition for camembert per 40g: 514kJ; protein 7.8g; total fat 10g (sat fat 6.6g); calcium 194mg; sodium 244mg.

​Parmesan styles

Parmesan

Go for: Full-flavoured, aged cheeses like pecorino, parmigiano reggiano or grana padano.

Fact: Compared with other cheeses, parmesan has one of the highest calcium contents, along with zinc at 6.5mg/100g and magnesium at 42mg/100g. Typical nutrition per 40g: 780kJ; protein 16.2g; total fat 13.3g (sat fat 8.4g); calcium 448mg; sodium 601mg.

Blue cheeses

Blue cheeses

Go for: Blue or blue vein moulded cheese like stilton and roquefort.

Fact: Despite the high salt content of blue cheese, the latest evidence shows that cheese consumption may be associated with a neutral effect on blood pressure. Interestingly, cheese peptides (building blocks of proteins) have been shown in one study to have a positive effect on blood pressure similar to a commonly prescribed blood pressure medication. Typical nutrition per 40g: 628kJ; protein 8.1g; total fat 13g (sat fat 8.3g); calcium 204mg; sodium 436mg.

​Eye cheeses

Emmental

Go for: Varieties with a sweet, nutty flavour and characteristic holes like Swiss and Emmental.

Fact: Swiss cheese contains minimal amounts of lactose because most of the lactose is removed when curds are separated from whey in the cheese-making process. Typical nutrition for swiss per 40g: 648kJ; protein 11.4g; total fat 12g (sat fat 7.6g); calcium 354mg; sodium 170mg.

Cottage cheese

Cottage cheese

Go for: Tubs of this low-fat and low-kilojoule fresh unripened cheese.

Fact: Not all packaged cheeses list the calcium content so it can be tricky to compare -- call the customer information line to ask about your favourite brand as cottage cheese is typically low in calcium. Typical nutrition per 40g: 212kJ; protein 6.2g; total fat 2.3g (sat fat 1.4g); calcium 36mg; sodium 111mg.

Feta cheese

Feta cheese

Go for: Fresh blocks in brine or sheep and goat's milk feta, often marinated in oil and herbs.

Fact: Feta cheese has been part of the Mediterranean diet for centuries. Now emerging research is showing that despite the saturated fat content, eating cheese may not raise cholesterol levels as previously predicted. Typical nutrition per 40g: 466kJ; protein 6.7g; total fat 9.1g (sat fat 6g); calcium 130mg; sodium 443mg.

Ricotta cheese

Ricotta cheese

Go for: Delicate, fresh whey-based cheeses that are used in savoury and sweet dishes.

Fact: When curds are separated into whey to make ricotta, the fat content is lowered. Typical nutrition per 40g: 220kJ; protein 4g; total fat 3.5g (sat fat 2.2g); calcium 92mg; sodium 75mg.

Cream cheese

Cream cheese

Go for: Tubs of this spreadable cheese in original or light versions.

Fact: With about 60 per cent less fat than butter or margarine in regular cream cheese, you may like to make the smart switch on toast or in sandwiches. Typical nutrition per 40g: 554kJ; protein 3.3g; total fat 12.8g (sat fat 8.2g); calcium 33mg; sodium 134mg.

Good Health (Australia Edition)​