Cheese lovers will be happy to know some varieties are keto-friendly.
The ketogenic diet, or the keto diet for short, is a high-fat (70 to upwards of 80 percent), moderate-protein, and low-carb diet. A common goal on the plan is to change your body’s biochemistry and, in turn, lose weight.
“Following a ketogenic diet changes your fuel source from one that primarily burns carbohydrates to one that burns fat,” says Olivia Wagner, RDN, a functional dietitian and founder of Liv Nourished in Chicago. In metabolic terms, this process is called ketosis.
One of the perks of a keto diet, followers say, is that cheese is not off-limits. In fact, cheese is basically the perfect keto food: high-fat, moderate-protein, and low-carb. “Cheese can add flavor, variety, and new textures into your meals,” says Wagner, adding that the best varieties for the keto diet are high-quality, grass-fed, and full-fat. (Just remember: Cheese isn’t “unlimited” in a keto diet, as it still contains calories and carbs; it’s also high in saturated fat, which is a less heart-healthy option than unsaturated fats, per the American Heart Association.)
Cheese might not be the first food you think of when it comes to weight loss, and yet some research suggests the food may be beneficial for this purpose. For example, in a study on more than 2,500 men who self-reported their intake of dairy products, a higher consumption of cheese specifically was associated with a lower BMI after a five-year follow-up. (That said, cheese is high in calories, and so while it can fit into a weight loss or maintenance diet, it’s best enjoyed in moderation.)
Some studies have also suggested that cheese may benefit certain health outcomes, too. Cheese may be linked to better cognition with age, concluded one observational study.
If you find that your results are plateauing while on keto, you may want to take it easy on the cheese, says April Kelly, RDN, founder of Orange County Nutrition Coaching in Costa Mesa, California. “Sometimes people lose weight much quicker and feel better when they take out dairy,” she says. If you find you tolerate it okay, there’s no reason to omit it; but if you’re struggling with gastrointestinal side effects or water retention — or if you find that you’re not losing weight despite being in ketosis — it may be time to discuss the role of dairy in your diet with your healthcare team.
If you’ve decided to add cheese to your keto diet menu, you should also know that not all cheeses are created equal. Here’s what you need to know about which cheeses to eat, which to limit, and which to skip altogether on this low-carb plan.
The 5 Best Types of Cheese to Eat on the Keto Diet
Goat cheese is an excellent choice for someone following the keto diet. It contains 0 carbs, making it a great way to hit your macros — 1 ounce (oz) of goat cheese also offers 103 calories, 8 g of fat, and 6 g of protein, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). In addition, cheese made from goat milk contains less lactose (a naturally occurring sugar in dairy) and proteins that are different from cow’s milk, which makes it easier to digest, says Wagner.
Keto Cinnamon-Orange Cheesecake Bars
Recipe by @thelowcarbcontessa Video by @lisathompson
CALORIES PER SERVING
For the crust: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line an 8 x 8 inch pan with parchment paper, leaving a 2 inch overhang on two sides.
Add King Arthur Baking Keto Wheat Flour, walnuts, butter, King Arthur Baking Sugar Alternative, salt, and egg to the bowl of your food processor and pulse until the dough comes together to form a ball.
Press dough evenly into your prepared pan. Bake until a light golden brown, and just set, approximately 14 to 16 minutes. Cool completely.
For the cheesecake batter: Add cream cheese and sour cream to the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and mix until smooth. Add King Arthur Baking Sugar Alternative, vanilla, orange zest, and orange juice stir on low until thoroughly combined. Next, add eggs one at a time until completely incorporated. Be careful not to overly mix the batter.
Transfer half of the batter to a separate bowl and stir in the cinnamon.
Alternate scoops of plain batter and cinnamon batter over the cooled crust, creating a checkerboard pattern, until all the batter is used. Gently tap the pan on the counter to release air bubbles and to even out the batter. Next, using a toothpick or cake tester, swirl the two batters.
Bake the cake for approximately 35 to 40 minutes, until the edges are just set, and the center still has a bit of jiggle when gently shaken. Place the cake on a cooling rack, and allow it to cool completely. Once cooled, cover it lightly with foil and place in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours, or overnight, before slicing into 16 bars.
For the praline walnut: Add butter to a saucepan and melt over medium heat.
Add the King Arthur Baking Sugar Alternative and stir to combine. Add the heavy cream, cinnamon, salt, vanilla, and molasses, and stir until thoroughly combined. Add the walnuts to the pan, stir until well coated.
Turn heat to medium-low and continue cooking for an additional 5 minutes stirring often, being careful not to burn.
Pour mixture onto a parchment-lined pan or plate and allow to cool completely. Once cooled, break into bite-sized pieces. Set aside.
For the whipped cream: Add all ingredients to a medium-sized bowl, and using a hand or stand mixer, beat until stiff peaks form. Be careful not to overbeat or the mixture will become lumpy.
Spoon or pipe the whipped cream onto the cheesecake bars, top with some of the praline walnuts, and garnish with fresh orange zest (optional) .
Amount per serving
“Cheeses that are high in flavor — like stinky cheeses — give you more bang for your buck when it comes to flavor. They add a lot of complexity for a small amount,” Wagner says. Blue cheese fits the bill: One slice (21 g) has 74 calories, 0.5 g of carbs, 4.5 g of protein, and 6 g of fat, per the USDA, making it a flavorful and low-carb option for snacking or topping your favorite dishes.
This is a keto favorite, thanks to its nutritional profile: Per the USDA, 1 oz contains 84 calories, 8 g of fat, 1 g of carbs, and 2 g of protein. That means it’s a great addition to a meal or snack when you need more fat. Wagner likes Nancy’s brand, which makes a probiotic-rich cream cheese that’s cultured with live bacteria (like yogurt). If you follow a plant-based diet, Kite Hill offers a cream cheese alternative that fits the keto profile well.
Grated Parmesan is perfect for adding a hit of salty, nutty flavor to foods. Per the USDA, 1 tablespoon (tbsp) of this cheese, grated, contains 21 calories and packs 1.4 g of fat, 0.7 g of carbs, and 1.4 g of protein. Pro tip: Make this cheese your best friend when it comes to salads. “A lot of keto dieters eat Caesar salads [sans croutons], and Parmesan cheese plays a big role in enjoying them,” says Lauren Bartell Weiss, PhD, a keto nutritionist in La Jolla, California. (Those croutons can tack on extra carbs to your bowl!) And finding salads you enjoy is important when you’re following a diet where it’s easy to fall short on vegetables.
Additionally, Parmesan tastes great on nonstarchy vegetables that keto dieters rely on so heavily. Consider sprinkling it over broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, zucchini, and more.
If you’re craving cheese and on the go, these dehydrated pieces of cheese in a bite-size shape are a delicious solution. “Clients [who are following the keto diet] miss chips and crackers,” says Dr. Weiss. “You can dip these cheese bites in guacamole for a high-fat snack.” Best of all, you don’t have to worry about refrigeration to get your cheese fix. One brand, Moon Cheese, has an “Oh My Gouda” variety that has 14 g of fat, 1 g of carbs, and 11 g of protein for 170 calories per 1-oz serving. Another, Whisps, offers an Asiago and Pepper Jack flavor with 11 g of fat, 1 g of carbs, and 12 g of protein per 150-calorie serving (about 23 crisps).
Unlike the other great keto cheeses listed above, cheese crisps are more processed and contain significantly more sodium, so exercise some caution and portion control while enjoying them as a snack.
The 5 Worst Cheeses for People on the Keto Diet
Canned or Spray Cheese
The USDA’s listed macros for spray cheese — 81 calories, 6 g of fat, 2 g of carbs, and 5 g of protein per oz — could probably fit into your keto diet. The problem: It’s heavily processed cheese that isn’t really, well, cheese. “These contain a lot of stabilizers, fillers, and oils that don’t provide much nutritional benefit. All you’re doing is adding gunk to your body that it doesn’t recognize, and that can lead to inflammation,” says Wagner. Inflammation is tied to many health conditions, including cancers, infectious diseases, and autoimmune disorders, according to research — so this type of “cheese” is one to skip.
Just like canned or spray cheese, American cheese is often highly processed, and keto nutrition experts urge dieters to pay attention to the quality of their food — not just whether it meets their macro goals. As for those macros, the USDA notes that a slice of American cheese has 65 calories, 5 g of fat, 2 g of carbs, and 3 g of protein. Because many people on keto stick to 20 g of carbs per day, one slice may account for 10 percent of your total carb allotment. Since there are better, less-processed options available, this one’s just not worth it.
Mild Cheddar Cheese
When choosing a cheese to eat on the keto diet, consider that many cheddars are mild tasting, and you may want more than one slice to feel satisfied. Sharp varieties provide a bigger dose of flavor, which may make them a better choice. Per the USDA, a ¾-oz slice of sharp cheddar contains 86 calories, 7 g of fat, 0.4 g of carbs, and 5 g of protein.
In small quantities, full-fat ricotta may be fine on the keto diet. But thanks to its macros, you’re not going to be able to sit down to a big bowl of it. “Ricotta is higher in carbs. While it can be a good option once in a while, you have to watch portions,” says Weiss. Per the USDA, a ½-cup serving of ricotta will contain 204 calories for a whopping 14 g of fat, 9 g of carbs, and 10 g of protein.
Cottage cheese, like ricotta, is not as keto-friendly, and you should limit the amount you eat if you’re on a strict keto diet, says Weiss. While cottage cheese is known for its high protein content, it also contains a relatively high amount of carbs and not that much fat, making it a less-than-ideal choice for keto. A ½-cup serving of cottage cheese contains 88 calories, 2.4 g of fat, 4.5 g of carbs, and 11.6 g of protein, per the USDA.