Dr. Andrea Middleton - Is It Bad For You? Approved by Dr. Andrea Middleton

Is Soft Cheese Bad For You?

Also Known As: Brie, Camembert, Chevre



Short answer

Soft cheeses like Brie, Camembert, Ricotta, and Feta provide essential nutrients such as calcium, protein, and vitamins, beneficial for bone and muscle health. However, they can be high in calories, fats, and, for some types, lactose, which makes moderation key. They can fit into a balanced diet, but those with lactose intolerance or high cholesterol should consume them cautiously. Furthermore, ensuring they're made from pasteurized milk helps mitigate the risk of Listeria infection. With mindful consumption, including portion control and frequency, soft cheese can be part of a nutritious diet.



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Long answer

Nutritional Content and Health Benefits of Soft Cheese

Soft cheeses, like Brie, Camembert, Ricotta, and Feta, are often enjoyed for their creamy texture and rich flavors. To truly understand their place in a balanced diet, we must delve into their nutritional profiles and the potential health benefits they may offer. It's important to note that the specifics can vary depending on the type of soft cheese and its method of production.

Nutritional Profile: Generally speaking, soft cheeses are a good source of essential nutrients. Here are some common elements found in a typical serving of soft cheese (which is about 1 ounce or 28 grams):

  • Calories: Soft cheese usually contains between 60 to 100 calories per serving. This variation can be attributed to the different fat content in each type of cheese.
  • Proteins: They're a decent source of protein, offering around 5 to 8 grams per serving, which is important for muscle repair and growth.
  • Fats: These cheeses can contain 4 to 9 grams of fat, including a mix of saturated and unsaturated fats. The exact proportions depend on the cheese's creaminess and production process.
  • Carbohydrates: Most soft cheeses are low in carbohydrates, often containing less than 1 gram per serving which makes them suitable for low-carb diets.
  • Vitamins and Minerals: Soft cheeses can be a source of important vitamins and minerals such as Calcium, Vitamin B12, Phosphorus, Zinc, and Vitamin A. The content of these nutrients can contribute to bone health, immune function, and skin health.

Health Benefits: Thanks to their nutritional makeup, soft cheeses could provide several health benefits:

  • Bone Health: The calcium and phosphorus found in soft cheeses are crucial for maintaining strong bones and may help prevent osteoporosis.
  • Muscle Maintenance: As a protein-rich food, soft cheese can be an integral part of a diet aimed at muscle maintenance and growth.
  • Metabolic Benefits: Some studies suggest that dairy products, including soft cheeses, can be a part of a diet that supports metabolic health and weight management.
  • Gut Health: The fermentation process of soft cheeses may promote the growth of beneficial gut bacteria which can aid in digestion and overall gut health.

It's important to consume soft cheese in moderation due to its calorie and fat content. Additionally, individuals with lactose intolerance or milk allergies should avoid soft cheese or choose lactose-free versions.

Research offers insight into the role of dairy in our diet. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that the consumption of cheese is not associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD), suggesting that cheese, including soft varieties, can be part of a heart-healthy diet when consumed in moderation (DOI). Furthermore, the proteins in soft cheese can be beneficial post-exercise for muscle recovery, per research outlined in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition (DOI).

In conclusion, while enjoying soft cheese, keep portion sizes sensible and consider the broader context of your overall diet to harness these health benefits without overindulging.

Lactose Intolerance and Digestive Sensitivities to Soft Cheese

Soft cheeses, which include varieties such as Brie, Camembert, and ricotta, can be a cause for digestive concern for individuals with lactose intolerance or other digestive sensitivities. Lactose intolerance occurs due to a deficiency in lactase, the enzyme responsible for breaking down lactose, a sugar found in milk and dairy products.

People with lactose intolerance may experience symptoms such as bloating, gas, diarrhea, and abdominal pain after consuming lactose-containing foods. It's important to note that soft cheeses often contain higher levels of lactose compared to harder cheeses. This is because during the cheese-making process, lactose remains in the watery whey that separates from the curds. Soft cheeses retain more of this whey, and therefore, more lactose.

Lactose Content in Different Cheeses:

Cheese Type Average Lactose Content
Brie Up to 2% lactose
Camembert Up to 2% lactose
Ricotta Up to 5% lactose
Cheddar (hard cheese for comparison) 0.1% or less lactose

Despite this, some soft cheeses are treated with bacterial cultures that help break down lactose. This process can sometimes reduce the lactose content enough to make it tolerable for certain people with sensitivities. Additionally, cheeses aged for longer periods tend to have less lactose, as it breaks down over time.

Another concern is the higher fat content in some soft cheeses, which can exacerbate symptoms in individuals with a sensitivity to fatty foods. Those with conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) may find that fatty dairy products trigger their symptoms.

Here are some tips for those with lactose intolerance or digestive sensitivities considering the consumption of soft cheeses:

  • Choose aged or cultured cheeses: Look for soft cheeses that have been treated with bacterial cultures or are aged, as these may have reduced lactose levels.
  • Lactose-free alternatives: Opt for lactose-free cheese products, which are available in many grocery stores.
  • Portion control: Limiting portion sizes can help manage symptoms by reducing the total intake of lactose.
  • Enzyme supplements: Lactase enzyme supplements taken before consuming dairy may improve digestion of lactose.
  • Monitor your reaction: Keep a food diary to track your reactions to different soft cheeses, as individual tolerance can vary widely.

Consultation with a healthcare provider or a registered dietitian can provide personalized advice for managing lactose intolerance and selecting appropriate cheese options. As research continues to evolve, it remains pivotal to stay informed about dietary choices and their potential impact on individual health and wellbeing.

For those without lactose intolerance or specific sensitivities, soft cheeses can be a wholesome part of a balanced diet, offering nutrients such as calcium, protein, and vitamins. However, understanding and listening to your body's reaction to these dairy products is key to maintaining digestive health.

Saturated Fat and Cholesterol in Soft Cheese: Heart Health Implications

The discussion on whether soft cheese is detrimental to one's health often touches on its saturated fat and cholesterol content. Saturated fat has long garnered attention for its role in heart health, and the subject of cholesterol is intertwined with concerns over cardiovascular diseases. Let's delve into the implications of these constituents found in soft cheese for heart health.

To start, it's crucial to understand that soft cheeses, which include varieties like Brie, Camembert, and Feta, often have a high saturated fat content. Saturated fats are known to raise low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels in the blood, sometimes referred to as 'bad' cholesterol. Elevated LDL cholesterol is associated with an increased risk of heart disease because it can lead to the build-up of plaques in arteries, a condition known as atherosclerosis.

  • Varieties and Saturated Fat Content: Different types of soft cheese can vary in their saturated fat content. For instance, a 30-gram serving of Brie contains about 4.9 grams of saturated fat, while the same amount of Feta holds roughly 4.2 grams.
  • Daily Intake Recommendations: According to the American Heart Association, saturated fats should comprise no more than 5% to 6% of your total daily calories. For someone eating 2,000 calories a day, that's about 13 grams of saturated fats.

When it comes to cholesterol, soft cheeses can vary significantly. Some cheeses have moderate amounts, while others are quite high in cholesterol. Consuming high amounts of dietary cholesterol was once feared to significantly increase blood cholesterol levels, but recent studies suggest the relationship isn't as strong as previously thought. Nevertheless, for individuals with existing high cholesterol or those at risk of cardiovascular diseases, monitoring cholesterol intake is advisable.

  • Dietary Cholesterol Content: A 30-gram serving of soft cheese can have between 20 to 30 milligrams of cholesterol, with some varieties potentially providing even more.
  • Guideline Changes: Recent dietary guidelines have removed the specific limit on dietary cholesterol, previously set at 300 milligrams per day. This change is due to emerging evidence indicating that dietary cholesterol has a complex and lesser impact on blood cholesterol levels than was once believed.

That said, the concern about saturated fats and cholesterol in soft cheese does not mean it is universally 'bad' for heart health. The consumption of cheese, as part of a balanced diet, may offer benefits such as providing essential nutrients like calcium and protein. Moreover, some studies hint at the potential 'cheese paradox,' where cheese consumption does not correlate with, and may even be inverse to, the expected increase in cardiovascular risks.

For a nuanced approach to heart health and soft cheese consumption, consider these recommendations:

  1. Portion Control: Enjoying soft cheese in moderation can help keep saturated fat and cholesterol intake within recommended limits.
  2. Healthier Options: Opt for low-fat or reduced-fat versions of soft cheese if you're concerned about saturated fat and cholesterol.
  3. Diverse Diet Profile: Pair soft cheeses with foods high in unsaturated fats, fiber, and other heart-healthy nutrients to balance the diet.

In summary, while soft cheeses do contain saturated fats and cholesterol, their impact on heart health can be managed through mindful consumption and a comprehensive dietary strategy. It is essential to recognize that an individual's overall eating pattern and lifestyle choices play a significant role in heart health. For those with existing health concerns, consulting with healthcare providers or dietitians for personalized advice is highly recommended.

Listeria Risk in Soft Cheese and Safe Consumption Practices

Consuming soft cheeses can pose a health risk due to the potential presence of Listeria monocytogenes, a bacterium that can cause listeriosis, a serious infection. It's particularly concerning for certain populations such as pregnant women, newborns, older adults, and individuals with weakened immune systems. The soft, moist environment of these cheeses can be a prime breeding ground for the bacteria.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), soft cheeses made with unpasteurized milk are deemed riskier. In contrast, those made with pasteurized milk are typically safer, as pasteurization is a process that kills harmful bacteria without significantly altering the taste or nutritional value of the food. However, even pasteurized soft cheeses have been occasionally implicated in listeria outbreaks.

Studies indicate that soft cheeses are more susceptible to contamination due to less acidic pH levels and higher moisture content compared to hard cheeses. These factors create an environment where Listeria can thrive if introduced during the manufacturing process. For example, a multi-state outbreak of listeriosis linked to soft cheeses occurred in the United States in 2014, as reported by the FDA and CDC.

The following are steps and safe consumption practices to minimize the risk of listeriosis from soft cheeses:

  • Opt for soft cheeses made from pasteurized milk rather than raw (unpasteurized) milk.
  • Check the labeling: Ensure the cheese packaging states that it's made with pasteurized milk. If there's any doubt, it's safer to avoid it, especially if you're at higher risk for listeriosis.
  • Maintain proper refrigeration: Keep soft cheeses at 40°F or below to inhibit bacterial growth.
  • Practice good hygiene: Always wash your hands before handling any food, including soft cheese. Use clean utensils and cutting boards to avoid cross-contamination.
  • Be cautious when eating out: Enquire about the type of milk used in soft cheeses when dining at restaurants or delis.
  • Monitor the cheese condition: Discard any soft cheese that has been out at room temperature for over 2 hours or has developed an off odor, flavor, or appearance.
  • Follow storage guidelines: Consume soft cheese according to the manufacturer's instructions on storage duration to reduce the risk of exposure to Listeria.

While no food can ever be guaranteed safe, understanding the risk factors and following these guidelines can substantially decrease the chances of contracting listeriosis from soft cheeses. Health professionals advise at-risk groups to consult with their healthcare provider for personalized dietary recommendations. It's also worthwhile to stay informed about active food safety alerts from regulatory agencies such as the FDA and CDC.

Overall, careful selection and handling of soft cheeses can greatly mitigate the risks associated with Listeria contamination, making these delicious dairy products a safer choice for those who enjoy them.

Soft Cheese in Diets: Balancing Moderation and Indulgence

Navigating the inclusion of soft cheese in a balanced diet involves a nuanced understanding of its nutritional profile and how it interacts with individual dietary needs. Appreciating soft cheese requires us to look beyond its creamy texture and distinctive flavors, examining both its health benefits and potential drawbacks. Below, we detail how to incorporate this delicacy into your diet with moderation as the guiding principle.

1. Nutritional Considerations

Soft cheeses such as Brie, Camembert, feta, and goat cheese come in a variety of textures and flavors. A common property among most is their high moisture content compared to hard cheeses. This feature entails a lower fat content per serving, which may appear beneficial at first glance. However, they often retain a high level of saturated fats, which can impact cholesterol levels and heart health if consumed excessively.

2. Serving Sizes

A critical aspect of enjoying soft cheeses while maintaining a healthy diet is serving size awareness. For most, a serving is roughly the size of a pair of dice, roughly 1 to 1.5 ounces. Staying within this range helps ensure that indulgence doesn't lead to unintended calorie surplus or excessive saturated fat intake.

3. Frequency of Consumption

While incorporation of soft cheese in your meals can add culinary delight, frequency should align with a balanced diet perspective. Dietitians often recommend consuming foods high in saturated fats in moderation. As a guideline, including soft cheese in a meal several times a week should be balanced with other lower-fat protein sources.

4. Health-Promoting Pairings

Incorporating soft cheese into your diet can be optimized by combining it with health-conscious pairings. Enjoying it with whole-grain crackers, fresh fruits, and nuts not only enhances the eating experience but also adds beneficial fibers, vitamins, and antioxidants to your diet. These pairings contribute to overall heart health and assist in maintaining stable blood sugar levels.

5. Individual Dietary Needs

It is essential to consider personal health conditions when deciding to include soft cheese in your diet. For individuals with lactose intolerance, some soft cheeses may be easier to digest due to their fermentation processes. Conversely, those with a predisposition to heart disease may need to be more cautious due to the saturated fat content.

6. The Role of Calcium

Despite concerns about fats, it's worth noting that soft cheese is a notable source of calcium and protein. Calcium is crucial for bone health, and the proteins found in cheese can contribute to muscle repair and growth. Balancing soft cheese intake with these factors in mind is integral to a comprehensive dietary strategy.

7. Considerations for Weight Management

For those monitoring their weight, including soft cheese can be a part of a diet plan, provided it is factored into the day's total caloric and macronutrient goals. Its rich flavors may also aid in satiety, potentially reducing the urge to overeat.

To best establish a balanced dietary approach that accommodates the indulgence of soft cheeses, consider consulting with a registered dietitian. Together, you can create a dietary plan that respects your love for soft cheese while elevating overall nutrition and health.

Frequently asked questions

Yes, there are lactose-free soft cheese options available, which are made by adding lactase enzyme during production or by fermenting the cheese longer to break down lactose. These options allow individuals with lactose intolerance to enjoy soft cheeses without experiencing discomfort. Always check labels to ensure the product is lactose-free.

Yes, soft cheeses can be beneficial for post-workout recovery. They provide a good amount of protein, which is essential for muscle repair and growth. Additionally, the calcium and phosphorus content may help strengthen bones, which can be impacted by exercise. However, portion control and balance with other recovery foods are important for optimal nutrition.

Soft cheese can be included in a weight management diet by considering portion sizes and overall daily caloric intake. Opting for lower-fat versions of soft cheese, where available, can also reduce calorie consumption. The rich flavors may increase feelings of fullness, which can help curb overeating. Always aim to balance soft cheese intake with plenty of vegetables, fruits, and lean protein sources.

Individuals with high cholesterol should be cautious with soft cheese consumption due to its saturated fat content, which can affect cholesterol levels. Consuming soft cheese in moderation, choosing low-fat or reduced-fat varieties, and balancing the diet with foods rich in unsaturated fats and fiber can make it more suitable. It's always best to consult with a healthcare provider for personalized dietary advice.

Ask a question about Soft Cheese and our team will publish the answer as soon as possible.

Possible short-term side effects

  • bloating
  • gas
  • diarrhea
  • abdominal pain

Possible long-term side effects

  • increased risk of heart disease
  • osteoporosis
  • weight gain

Ingredients to be aware of


  • muscle repair and growth
  • bone health
  • immune function
  • gut health
  • metabolic health
  • weight management

Healthier alternatives

  • low-fat cheese
  • lactose-free cheese
  • cheeses made with pasteurized milk
  • plant-based cheese alternatives

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Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Diane Saleem
Published on: 02-27-2024

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Diane Saleem
Published on: 02-27-2024

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