It’s a rare recipe that turns out well when you substitute a low-fat or fat-free version of something, especially dairy. And don’t even get me started on margarine. For some ingredients, there really are no substitutions.

Since I plan to live and therefore must eat this way for decades, I’m determined that my food be foodie-worthy, not just fat-conscious fuel. Therefore, I embarked on a mission to learn everything there is to know about the fat levels in my favorite cooking cheeses. My hope was that at least a few of the best ones made the cut. (Julia Child maintained that there are only three worthy cheeses: cheddar, Swiss, and Parmesan; I hate to differ with Julia, but there have to be at least a couple others!)

The American Heart Association Nutrition Center, while appearing useful in other ways, was not helpful regarding cooking with dairy. Here is the extent of the information I could locate:

  • Select fat-free (skim) or low-fat (1%) milk. Avoid milk that contains added flavorings such as vanilla, chocolate or strawberry. They usually have added sugars and calories.
  • Choose fat-free, low-fat or reduced-fat cheeses.
  • Use egg whites or egg substitutes instead of egg yolks. (Substitute two egg whites for each egg yolk in recipes that call for eggs.)
  • Choose soft margarines that contain “0 grams trans fat” instead of buying butter. (These margarines usually come in tubs.)
  • Don’t buy a lot of butter, cream, and ice cream. Save those for special occasions and, even then, limit how much you eat. These foods have more saturated fat than whole milk.

Choosing fat-free, low-fat, or reduced-fat cheese is precisely what I’m trying to avoid. I can’t makethat delicious couscous-edamame-feta salad? What about Cooking Light’s recommendation to subsitute cream cheese to make low-fat mac and cheese? Caprese salad? That has to be okay, right? I don’t need to pile on the creamy, gooey, salty, tangy, sweet, nutty goodness at every meal, but fat-free cheddar? Give me a break.

The USDA nutrition website was similarly unhelpful. Where was the index of cheeses by name with nutritional information? And where’s the list of “good” cheeses that are approved for the heart attack survivor to eat? Am I the first to ask this question? Or, is it unavailable because I really, truly shouldn’t eat cheese at all?

My daily total fat grams target (including the good-for-me kind) is 50 grams and my daily limit of saturated fat is 20. The nutritionist at the hospital told me to look a 2-to-1 ratio of total to saturated (e.g. 8 grams of total fat should have no more than 4 grams of saturated fat). Almost none of the cheeses I looked up meet that criteria, so any use would require careful fat-gram budgeting. I think that’s what they mean by “use sparingly.”

So, here’s what I know, for better or worse (mostly worse). That vegan thing is looking better all the time.

All data below is for just 1 ounce, or about the size of a matchbox!

BETTER

Part-skim ricotta
Total fat = 2.25
Saturated = 1.4

Cottage cheese (1%)
Total fat = 2.5
Saturated = 1.5

Part-skim mozzarella
Total fat = 4.5
Saturated = 3

Fresh mozzarella
Total fat = 5
Saturated = 3

Cream cheese
Total fat = 5
Saturated = 3

Feta
Total fat = 6
Saturated = 4.5

NOT SO GOOD

American Cheese
Total fat = 7
Saturated = 4

Parmesan
Total fat = 7
Saturated = 5

Provolone
Total fat = 7.5
Saturated = 5

Swiss
Total fat = 8
Saturated = 5

Brie
Total fat =8
Saturated =5

Blue
Total fat = 8
Saturated = 5.3

Monterey Jack
Total fat = 8.5
Saturated fat = 5.5

PRETTY BAD FOR YOU

Cheddar
Total fat = 9
Saturated = 6

Gruyere
Total fat = 9
Saturated = 5

Havarti
Total fat = 10
Saturated = 7

This is just a sampling, not definitive information (see above, USDA). Some of this came from brand names so check your labels!

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