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Does Cheese Fit into a Keto Diet?

You’ve read the research, learned the benefits, and now you’re ready to take the plunge into Keto? Great! The only thing left to do is to figure out which foods to eat and which to avoid. For the most part, constructing a list of keto-friendly foods is reasonably straightforward. Fats are good, carbs are bad. Ditch the bread products and focus on energy-boosting foods like lean grass-fed meats and healthy fats like avocados and nut butters. 

Need more details about what foods to buy for your new keto diet? Check out our Keto Grocery List here.

First, you will want to choose all your protein, vegetables, and healthy fats for your keto diet. There’s the question of cheese. Who can deny that cheese is one of the most loved foods around? There are hundreds of cheeses to choose from, and here’s the excellent news…many of them are indeed Keto friendly (depending on which version of Keto you subscribe to- “clean” or “dirty,” but more on this later). 

By definition, cheese is a low carb food, and therefore it technically fits well into Keto or any low carb, high-fat eating plan. However, many people do have intolerances or even allergies to dairy. 

Dairy Allergies

As much as cheese is well-loved by many, what about those who are simply unable to eat cheese at all? This undoubtedly refers to a large percentage of the population.

Typically, there are two main reasons that people can’t eat cheese:

  • They are lactose intolerant
  • They are allergic to casein

If you are lactose intolerant, then you have an intolerance to lactose, which is a milk sugar. However, if you are allergic to casein, then it is the actual milk protein that you have an allergy to.

It is important to note that even if you don’t have any sensitivities or allergies, poor-quality cheeses do not count as acceptable in any healthy living eating plan, much less in a stricter diet like Keto. Poor quality refers to cheeses that are processed, such as pre-sliced and packaged “cheese” -also known as man-made substances that include refined oil, artificial flavour, and colour, preservatives and tons of sugars.

So, how do you know if you have any lactose sensitivities or allergies? Well, there are typically some pretty clear side effects.

  • Fatigue
  • Skin blemishes and rashes
  • Digestive issues
  • Metabolic issues

However, providing your body can tolerate dairy, and you don’t have any lactose issues, cheese can be an excellent yet minimal addition to a keto diet. 

If you’ve chosen to try a ketogenic diet to lose weight, you’re in luck! There is significant research that suggests that dairy products can even be a beneficial part of weight management. This is, of course, providing that they are consumed in moderate amounts. Cheese has an ideal ratio of carbs to protein, which is why it makes a great low-carb choice both at mealtime and for snacks. 

However, just because cheese can be included in a keto diet, it doesn’t mean that you should overdo it and put cheese on everything you eat. Like in most things, moderation is the key. 

First, let’s start with exactly what cheese is and what goes into making it. That way, we can fully understand what we are consuming and be sure to do it in the right direction. 

Cheese is a dairy product, typically derived from the milk of cows or goats and occasionally sheep. It does not occur naturally in nature, but humans figured out early on how to make it and have been doing so for over seven thousand years. 

There are thousands of types of cheeses all around the world, and it is the pasteurization, fermentation, fat content, and processing methods of the milk that alter the texture, flavour, and style of cheese. These aspects are some of the ones that also determine how healthy a particular cheese is to consume. 

Cheese can have several health benefits, providing it is made from high quality, grass-fed dairy products. And because cheese is high in fat and in protein, it technically fits the description for foods on a keto eating plan.

Which cheeses are good, and which should we avoid while on Keto?

It’s crucial to choose cheeses that are made from high quality organic and grass-fed dairy products. You will want to ensure that your cheese of choice also has a low sodium content. 

Soft and semi-soft cheeses have more lactose -which translates to carbs and, therefore, a higher carb content. Semi-hard and hard cheeses typically have less lactose. This is why some cheese is more Keto friendly than others. 

Now, although you will not be able to enjoy sprinkled cheese over pasta or cream cheese on a bagel while following a ketogenic diet, at least you don’t have to give up cheese altogether! There are plenty of delicious and even decadent Keto based recipes to choose from that incorporate cheese.

Here are a few of the top choices for keto-friendly cheeses:

  • Mozzarella
  • Cheddar
  • Feta
  • Provolone
  • Parmesan
  • Blue cheese
  • Colby
  • Gouda
  • Havarti
  • Jarlsberg
  • Monterey Jack
  • Swiss cheese 

Need more cheesy options? Read up about these and other cheeses to incorporate into your keto diet

Important Facts about “Good Cheese”

If you choose to include cheese as part of your keto diet, then choosing wisely and carefully is of utmost importance.

There are four key elements to take note of:

  • Non-homogenized
  • Raw
  • Grass-fed
  • Organic

Let’s take a moment to dive deeper into these four elements.

Homogenized or Not?

The healthiest form of milk is whole and non-homogenized. This should be the type of milk that your cheese is made from. Whole means that it has a high-fat content -great for Keto and you want to avoid homogenized because of the unnatural by-products it creates. So, choose your cheese wisely and always opt for cheese made from whole and non-homogenized milk.

Pasteurize or Not? 

Yes and no. Pasteurization, unfortunately, kills all the good bacteria along with the bad. This process allows the milk to last longer, but it also destroys healthy proteins, good bacteria, and enzymes. Opting for cheese made from raw milk means ingesting more probiotics, which is much healthier.

Grass-fed. Important or Not?

Grass-fed is very important. Let’s face it, cows are supposed to eat grass, not grains. Therefore, milk (and consequently cheese) made from grass-fed cows instead of grains and carbs, increases the omega-3 fatty acids and vitamins in the milk they produce. Ultimately, it is essential that the cheese you choose to include in your keto diet, has a high fat and protein content, low carbohydrates, and contains healthy probiotic bacteria. Ensuring that your cheese is from grass-fed milk ensures that you will also have vitamin k2 and omega fatty acids -which are important.

Organic? Yes or No?

Organic cheese ensures that the cow was fed an organic diet and was not given any synthetic hormones. Pretty much a no-brainer.

However, there is another side to the coin…and the other side is not as fond of cheese when it comes to including it as part of a keto diet.

Clean Keto vs. Dirty Keto

Some people believe in following a stricter, or from their perspective, a cleaner version of the keto diet. This perspective says that including cheese as part of a keto diet results in eating “dirty keto”. If this is your view, then consuming cheese would not be permitted.

On a “clean keto diet,” dairy products, in general, are seen as inflammatory and therefore recommended to stay away from. In particular, this refers to any dairy product with casein. Casein is a milk protein that is inflammatory and potentially carcinogenic. As well, cheese can harbor toxic mold from the animal’s diet.

Another issue is that some cheeses have other ingredients in them that many people are not even aware of. Shredded cheese, for example. A little-known fact is that shredded cheese is sprinkled with starch powder to keep the pieces from sticking together in the bag. So, in this case, you may think you are eating cheese-which should be a low carb food, but in reality, your carb intake is much higher than you expected. Even without the inflammatory issues that a clean keto diet claims cheese creates, hidden starch is not conducive to any keto diet.

Eating a “clean” vs. “dirty” keto diet is a very individual decision. Depending on what your motivations for eating keto are and your goals, you may choose one or the other. Regardless if you decide to include cheese into your keto diet or not, doing so after knowing all the details and seeing which reasoning fits you, is always the best choice.

Basically, you have a choice to make when switching to a keto diet. If you don’t have a sensitivity or allergy to dairy, then you need to choose your keto style-either clean or dirty. If leaving cheese out of the equation is not an option for you, then be sure to choose the right cheeses. Low in carbs and high in healthy fats and protein. Cheese that is high-quality, grass-fed, and organic is best.

Just remember that overeating of a good thing is not advisable either. Just because cheese can be acceptable on a keto diet, it doesn’t mean you should be eating a ton of it. You want to be making choices that you can uphold long term and still be able to enjoy your keto diet for all the benefits it provides. So, if it suits you, and your body is receptive to it, making cheese a small part of your keto diet is acceptable.

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