The Truth About Cheese Fat

Just how much fat does cheese have? First, don't forget that the percentages of milkfat (also referred to as butterfat and/or “cream”) you see on cheese labels (e.g., 70 percent maitre grasse, or m.g.) refer to the percentage of fat found in the dry matter only. This type of labeling is done throughout the world and serves almost as a code to indicate how much cream has been used in making the cheese.

In addition, cheeses are very moist, so you can usually divide the percentage of fat in two to get a sense of the overall fat content. That means a label of 45 percent m.g. is about 22.5 percent fat.

In a diet-conscious world, it's easy to think of fat only in terms of calories, and to assume that all fat will contribute to unwanted weight gain. However, the truth is hardly that simple, and though you are wise to avoid unhelpful fats — trans fats for example — the fats in cheese are saturated, and made up of chains of fatty acids.

In moderation, saturated fats turn out to be pretty important to your health. Saturated fats provide energy, carry fat-soluble vitamins (like vitamins A, D, and E, and riboflavin in cheese) throughout the body, assist in the building of membranes, and help in the regulation of bodily functions.

If you've been avoiding cheese because of its fat, you should take a look at how it compares to a few other well-loved foods. An ounce of almonds has almost 10 grams of fat. Avocados have 5 grams of fat per ounce, as does sirloin steak. One ounce of coconut has 0 grams of fat, and an ounce of potato chips has 15 grams of fat.

So, as you get to know your cheeses you'll also want to learn about their relative percentages of fat. In general, though they vary according to how they were made, the ratios of moisture to dry matter, the type of milk used, and the amount of cream included, this is how they stack up: Per ounce, ricotta and fresh goat's milk generally contain 4 and 5 grams of fat, respectively. Next, coming in at 6 grams of fat per ounce, are Brie and mozzarella.

Next is Parmigiano-Reggiano at 7 grams, then Emmental at 8 grams, and then Cheddar at 9 grams. Somehow, when you put together all the health benefits of cheese along with the delicious tastes, at 4 to 9 grams of fat per ounce, cheese doesn't seem as fat anymore.

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