Cheers for Nutrient-Rich Cheddar

CheddarHas your relationship with dairy products soured? You’re not alone, especially when it comes to cheese. Fearing the relatively high fat, calorie and sodium content of some cheeses, many of us have curtailed our consumption of this beneficial food.

I’m not one of them. For me, a life without cheese would hardly be a life worth living.

Yes, I adore cheese, most kinds, but the cheese I adore most is cheddar. And the reason my heart cheers for cheddar is because it’s a nutritional superstar, packed with protein, calcium and phosphorous. A 1-ounce portion (think a pair of dice) fulfills 14 percent of our protein needs with 7 grams, 20 percent of our calcium needs, and 14 percent of phosphorous. All together, this powerful team supports our muscles, bones, teeth, tissues and immune system.

I’m also a huge cheddar fan because its bold flavor helps me eat it in moderation, which is the key to eating cheese, according to the American Dietetic Association.

On the fat front, cheddar serves up 9 grams of total fat per ounce, with 6 of those being saturated fat. The American Heart Association recommends that we consume no more than 13 grams of saturated fat a day due to its propensity to raise our bad cholesterol, which may then increase our risk for heart disease and stroke.

Some recent studies, however, have indicated that cheese — even in high amounts — may not raise bad cholesterol after all. While more research is clearly needed, scientists think multiple mechanisms are involved, possibly related to calcium (shown to reduce the absorption of fat during digestion), protein and a cheese’s unique nutrient matrix.

Something else to cheer about: Cheddar may protect our teeth, according to a study published in General Dentistry. Research has revealed that eating cheddar at the end of a meal helps to neutralize acids that form while eating, which may then thwart cavity formation. Cheddar for dessert, anyone?

Much like some other delicious foods that are good for us — nuts, avocados, peanut butter, olive oil — cheddar is no slouch when it comes to calories: a 1-ounce slice has about 115 calories. Eat a few slices at a cocktail party and you’re over 200. What cheddar calls for then is moderation. Depending on your dietary needs, it may also call for eating some of the reduced-fat versions.

A final cheer: Sodium-wise, cheddar has less salt than most cheeses per 1-ounce slice, clocking in at 174 mg. The same amount of Parmesan has 450 mg.

Grilled Cheese with Mashed Avocado and Tomato
Adapted from
1 ripe peeled avocado
1 tablespoon lemon juice
½ teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon coarse black pepper
1 teaspoon dried basil
8 slices whole-grain bread
6 ounces cheddar cheese, sliced
1 large tomato, thinly sliced and patted dry
1 tablespoon canola oil, divided

In a small bowl, mash together avocado, lemon juice, cumin, salt, and pepper until smooth. Stir in basil and set aside.

Top four of the bread slices with cheese; spread with avocado mixture and top with tomato slices. Add the four remaining bread slices on top.

Heat 1½ teaspoons canola oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add 2 sandwiches to pan; top with another heavy skillet. Cook 3 minutes on each side or until golden; remove sandwiches from pan. Repeat procedure with remaining oil and sandwiches.

PS: Celebrate: April 12 is National Grilled Cheese Sandwich Day! According to a reader’s opinion poll, grilled cheese sandwiches are among one of the top comfort foods in the United States.

Helpful tips

Choose sharper cheddars with stronger flavors to help monitor intake. Lactose intolerant? Aged cheeses like cheddar contain relatively low levels of lactose. Read cheese labels carefully: some reduced-fat versions contain fillers and additives that don’t suit everyone.

Anne Palumbo is a lifestyle columnist, food guru, and seasoned cook, who has perfected the art of preparing nutritious, calorie-conscious dishes. She is hungry for your questions and comments about SmartBites, so be in touch with Anne at

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