Can You Eat Cheese on a Ketogenic Diet?

The Keto diet has skyrocketed in popularity over the past years. That’s because it allows you to lose weight while eating satiating, fatty foods. You just have to be wary of your carb consumption.

This also explains why people have qualms about consuming dairy.

Here’s the thing: Most cheeses are low in carbs, making them acceptable for the keto meal plan. The same thing goes for other dairy foods like butter and heavy cream.

The only caveat, by far, is that you can enjoy it with your favorite bread. So, say bye-bye to buttered toasts and bagels with cream cheese.

But that doesn’t mean you will have unless cheeseburgers forever. There are different ways to enjoy cheese and other dairy products as long as you keep a low carb consumption.

To learn more about cheese and whether you can have it on a Keto diet, we suggest that you keep reading.

What is Cheese?

Cheese is a dairy product, generally obtained from the milk of cows, buffalo, goats, or sheep. It comprises protein and fats from milk. Humans have created cheese for over 7,200 years, and cheesemaking predates recorded history.

During cheesemaking, cheese is acidified using naturally occurring bacteria. Often, lemon juice or vinegar is added. The healthy bacteria in cheese turn the milk sugar lactose into lactic acid, which helps preserve the cheese.

After adding the enzyme known as rennet, cheesemakers press or strain the cheese to take out most of the moisture content.

Soft and semi-soft cheeses like mozzarella have greater moisture content. Meanwhile, semi-hard and hard cheeses like cheddar and Parmesan have moderate moisture levels. They are also usually aged longer.

There are thousands of various cheeses from around the world. And its style, texture, and flavor will depend on the following:

  • Milk source
  • Pasteurization
  • Length of fermentation
  • Fat content
  • Method of bacteria and mold
  • Processing methods
  • Aging and curing

Most yellow or red cheeses get their color from the addition of annatto. Cheesemakers can also combine herbs, spices, or wood smoke as flavoring agents.

Benefits of Eating Cheese

High-quality dairy products are an excellent source of micronutrients.

Cheese is high in fat (including the short-chain fatty acid, butyrate), protein, and calcium. It also produces vitamin A, vitamin B12, zinc, phosphorus, and riboflavin. 

If you purchase cheese made from 100% grass-fed milk, it also carries vitamin K2 and the omega-3 fatty acid, conjugated linoleic acid (CLA).

These nutrients play vital roles in your body, and most people don’t get plenty of them. If you’re not eating organ meats or fermented soy, incorporating more grass-fed cheese in your diet is a great way to get more fat-soluble vitamins like vitamin A and K2.

Similar to probiotic dairy foods, raw cheese can populate your gut with good bacteria like Lactobacillus acidophilus. This can enhance your digestion and reduce inflammation in your body.

Downsides of Eating Cheese

Cheese can be a great source of nutrients, but does that suggest everyone should consume it?

No. Lots of people have a sensitivity or allergy to dairy, which involves cheese.

There are two leading causes some people to respond poorly to cheese: 

  1. They’re intolerant to lactose (milk sugar) in milk products
  2. They’re intolerant or allergic to casein (a milk protein) located in dairy products 

Some people require the necessary digestive enzymes to break down these sugars and proteins.

If you can’t absorb lactose or casein, you’re likely to experience some unpleasant side effects:

  • Fatigue
  • Metabolic issues
  • Skin problems, like rashes and acne
  • Digestive issues

If you have a casein intolerance, you may be capable of eating A2 cheese. A2 cheeses are created using milk from specially bred cows whose milk contains less A1 casein. Researchers have linked A1 casein to more problems in people who have casein sensitivities.

Whether or not you have a sensitivity to dairy, poor-quality cheeses are off-limits. 

Some foods marked “cheese” are not cheeses. Instead, they are lab-made products with unhealthy refined oils, artificial flavors, preservatives, and added sugars. 

Real but low-quality cheese can also carry contaminants from factory farms. This includes unnatural byproducts of homogenization (mixing) and high-heat pasteurization.

Can Cheese Help You Lose Weight?

Assuming you’re not having any dairy sensitivities and purchase high-quality keto cheese, you are free to enjoy it. But what about weight loss?

Some people promote avoiding cheese on “clean keto.” Clean keto sounds dramatic, but there’s nothing disagreeable about high-quality cheese.

The cheese will not increase your blood sugar or kick you out of ketosis. If you aren’t dropping weight on keto, don’t blame cheese. 

The fact is, to lose weight on keto, you need to produce a mild caloric deficit through diet and exercise. You will consume minimal amounts of carbs, adequate-protein to keep your lean body mass, and the rest of your calories will come from fat.

By reducing carbs and eating plenty of healthy proteins and fat, your body will proceed into ketosis. You will utilize fat for fuel, enabling you to burn more fat at rest and during exercise.

The only concern with eating cheese happens if you eat a lot of cheese and too many calories from other foods.

If you consume too many calories, you can’t remedy the problem with more exercise. But there’s a simple solution: avoid snacking, stick to a set meal schedule, and make sure you’re getting adequate to eat at each meal. 

Is it Okay to Eat Cheese While on a Keto Diet?

The good news is, cheese is excellent to eat on the keto diet.

Unlike most bread, for example, it boasts a perfect ratio of carbs and protein. This makes it an excellent low-carb addition to several meals and snacks that’s much better for you than a bowl of pasta, for instance.

However, it’s crucial to be cautious when you learn something that is good for you. Extremes, when it gets to food and dieting, rarely end well. The cheese is excellent, but cheese for every meal probably isn’t.

What I don’t see enough of people talking about when addressing keto is calories. If you’re following keto to lose weight, you’re likely to get caught up in all the rules about carbs, fat, and ketones. Forgetting that weight loss also requires some calorie deficit.

In other words, cheese still holds calories, and too much cheese means too much caloric intake. Hence, it isn’t going to help you shed some weight, whether you’re in ketosis or not.

That doesn’t mean you have to count calories. But paying attention to the quality of your calories (the foods you are eating) can create a massive difference in your weight loss attempts.

Cheese is not bad as long as you’re balancing out your cheese consumption with lots of other foods.

How to Choose the Best Keto Cheese

There is a vast difference between high-quality organic cheese, traditionally-produced cheese, and mass-produced factory-farmed cheese. Here are some issues to keep in mind when shopping for keto cheese.

Is it Homogenized?

Natural milk is not homogenized. Cheese made with homogenized milk is less healthy than cheese manufactured with whole, non-homogenized milk.

This is because the homogenization method creates unnatural byproducts through molecular fragmentation. That indicates that your body won’t recognize the chopped-up fats and proteins. 

When cheese is produced locally using traditional methods, it doesn’t have that issue. But if cheese is created with mass-produced milk, or if it is done with skim milk or labeled as “reduced fat,” avoid it.

Is it Pasteurized?

Pasteurization is another industrial method that reduces the health benefits of cheese and other dairy products. 

For thousands of years, people drank raw (unpasteurized) milk and obtained cheese with raw milk. It’s only when people started living in dense cities, with higher temperatures and longer transport times, that dairy products spread dangerous bacteria, and people got sick.

To resolve that problem, milk producers started heating their milk to kill the bacteria. It is a method invented by Louis Pasteur in the mid-nineteenth century.

Pasteurization may have made sense a hundred years ago, but now we know it also destroys good bacteria and enzymes and alters or kills healthy fats and proteins.

Go for cheese made with raw milk. It’s probiotic, includes enzymes that help you digest dairy, and has all of its nutritional benefits intact. The same goes for other fermented dairy products like sour cream and full-fat Greek yogurt.

Is it Organic?

Whenever possible, purchase organic cheese and other dairy products like heavy cream.

Organic dairy products are more dependable than conventional dairy products but not as good as organic and raw.

Organic cheese is often still produced from homogenized and pasteurized milk. But at least you know the animal that gave the milk was fed an organic diet and was not given synthetic hormones. 

Is it Grass-Fed?

Lastly, you must eat cheese made from milk produced by grass-fed cows. 

Grass-fed cheese is a big deal because cows are supposed to eat grass. Feeding cows a diet of grass rather than grains and refined carbs enhances the beneficial omega-3 fatty acids and fat-soluble vitamins in their milk.

5 Best Types of Cheese to Eat on the Keto Diet

Goat Cheese

About one ounce (oz) of goat cheese gives 90 calories, 0.2g of carbs, 6g of protein, and 7g of fat, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Initially, there are several grams of carbs in goat cheese, making it a great way to hit your macros. Also, cheese made from goat milk contains less lactose and proteins that are distinct from cow’s milk, making it easier to digest.

Blue Cheese

Cheeses that are high in flavor — like stinky cheeses — give you more bang for your buck when it comes to taste. They add a lot of complexity for a small quantity.

Blue cheese fits the bill: A small crumble (1/3 oz) has 32 calories, 0.2 g of carbs, 2 g of protein, and 2.5 g of fat.

Cream Cheese

This is a keto favorite, mainly because the only thing it adds is fat. One tablespoon (51 calories) has 0.8g of carbs, less than 1g of protein, but 5 grams of fat.

That suggests it’s a great addition to a meal or snack when you need more fat. Try Nancy’s brand, which makes a probiotic-rich cream cheese that’s cultured with live active bacteria (like yogurt).

Parmesan Cheese

Grated Parmesan is ideal for adding a hit of salty, nutty flavor to foods. One tablespoon of grated parm (26 calories) packs 0.9g of carbs, 1.8g of protein, and 1.7g of fat.

Pro Tip: Make this cheese your best friend when it comes to salads.

Cheese Crisps

If you must have cheese and you’re on the go, these dehydrated bits of cheese in a bite-sized shape are an adequate solution. Best of all, you don’t have to bug about refrigeration to get your cheese fix.

One brand, Moon Cheese, has a Gouda mixture with 0 carbs, 5g of fat, and 5g of protein for 70 calories per serving, six or seven pieces.

Another, Whisps, offers Asiago and pepper jack with 1g of carbs, 11g of fat, and 12g of protein per 150-calorie serving, which is approximately 23 crisps.

5 Worst Kinds of Cheese for People on the Keto Diet

Canned or Spray Cheese

The macros of spray cheese could probably fit into your diet just fine. That’s because it has 2g of carbs, 5g of protein, 6g of fat for 81 calories per ounce.

The issue: It’s massively processed cheese that isn’t, well, cheese. These carry a lot of stabilizers, fillers, and oils that don’t contribute much nutritional benefit. All you’re doing is adding extra gunk that your body doesn’t know, and that can lead to inflammation. 

Inflammation is tied to several health conditions like cancer, infectious diseases, and autoimmune disorders.

American Cheese

Just like canned or spray cheese, American cheese is often highly processed. Moreover, keto nutrition specialists urge dieters to pay attention to the quality of their food.

As for those macros, a slice of American cheese has 65 calories, 2g of carbs, 4g of protein, and 5g of fat.

Because many people on keto stick to 20g of carbs per day, one slice may value for 10 percent of your total carb portion. Since there are more satisfying options available, this one’s not worth it.

Yellow Cheddar Cheese

Determining the highest quality foods, including cheese, is something that experts recommend. For that reason, they suggest skipping varieties that are produced with dyes or colors, like many cheddars. 

Yellow cheddars have annatto added for color. To get past this, choose white cheddar. A slice of cheddar holds 85 calories, 0.6g of carbs, 5g of protein, and 7g of fat.

Take note that many cheddars are smooth tasting, and you may want more than one slice to feel content. If opting for cheddar, go for excellent varieties for a more significant dose of flavor.

Ricotta Cheese

In small amounts, full-fat ricotta may be acceptable in your diet. But you’re not going to be capable of sitting down to a big bowl of it. Ricotta is higher in carbs.

While it can be a good alternative once in a while, you have to watch portions. A ½-cup portion of ricotta will carry 192 calories for a whopping 5 g of carbs, 14 g of protein, and 13 g of fat.

Cottage Cheese

This matches the same rule as ricotta: Eat in short amounts if you’re on a strict keto diet.

Cottage cheese is recognized for its high protein content. It also carries a hefty amount of carbs (for keto) and not that much fat, all qualities that make it a less-than-ideal option.

One 85-calorie, a ½-cup serving of full-fat cottage cheese, has approximately 5g of carbs, 5g of fat, and 12g of protein.

The excellent news for cheese lovers is that yes, cheese is keto-friendly. It’s low in carbs, and it can be an excellent source of healthy fats and protein. 

However, it would be best to buy high-quality cheeses and other dairy products. This means non-homogenized, unpasteurized, and organic cheese made from grass-fed milk.

If you consume high-quality keto cheese (and other low-carb dairy products), you will profit in weight loss, better strength and energy levels, and optimal hormone levels.

Mozzarella and cheddar cheeses are among the best cheese varieties for people following keto. 

What you want to avoid are the high-fat dairy products that are also high in added sugars.

Regardless, you should not overeat your cheese. Otherwise, it won’t help you with your weight loss journey.