Low-Fat Vs. Full-Fat Cheese

For years it was believed that low-fat and fat-free dairy products were the healthier choice over their full-fat alternatives.

Low-Fat Vs. Full-Fat Cheese

However, recent research has challenged that notion, with some studies suggesting that full-fat dairy may actually have more health benefits.

So when you're standing in the dairy aisle, should you reach for the low-fat or full-fat cheese?

The Case for Low-Fat Cheese

Low-fat and fat-free cheese and other dairy products surged in popularity in the 1980s and 1990s, when dietary guidelines began urging people to limit their saturated fat intake. Here's why low-fat cheese may still make sense for some people:

Lower in Calories and Fat

Low-fat cheese is significantly lower in calories and fat than full-fat varieties. For example, one ounce of whole milk cheddar cheese has 114 calories and 9 grams of fat, while the reduced-fat version supplies just 49 calories and 2 grams of fat.

For those limiting calories or fat intake, low-fat cheese lets you enjoy the flavor while keeping your numbers in check. This could aid weight management for some.

May Lower Heart Disease Risk

The American Heart Association still recommends limiting daily saturated fat intake to 5-6% of total calories to reduce heart disease risk. Cheese is high in saturated fat, supplying 20-30% of your recommended daily value per serving.

Opting for low-fat cheese over full-fat could help keep your saturated fat consumption within heart-healthy ranges.

Contains the Same Nutrients

Low-fat cheese delivers largely the same nutrient package as full-fat cheese. Both supply protein, calcium, vitamin A, vitamin B12 and more. The only nutrient lost when fat is removed is vitamin K2, present only in very small amounts anyway.

So with low-fat cheese you still reap most nutritional benefits, just with less fat and calories. For those managing weight or cholesterol, this makes it an appealing choice.

Key Takeaway: Low-fat cheese is lower in calories and saturated fat than full-fat varieties while still supplying protein, calcium and other nutrients. This may aid weight loss and support heart health.

The Case for Full-Fat Cheese

While low-fat cheese may seem better for your waistline and arteries at first glance, recent research paints a different picture. Here's what the latest science says about full-fat cheese:

Associated with Less Weight Gain

Contrary to expectations, some studies link full-fat dairy intake to lower body weight. For example, an analysis in the American Journal of Nutrition found women who consumed full-fat dairy products were 8% less likely to become overweight or obese than non-dairy consumers over time.

The reasons for this relationship remain unclear. One theory is that fat increases feelings of fullness, curbing overeating. More research is still needed in this area.

May Reduce Diabetes Risk

Higher biomarkers of full-fat dairy intake are linked to a 46% lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes in observational studies. Again, the reasons for this relationship require more research.

Some experts speculate that dairy fat itself promotes insulin sensitivity, though confirming this will take further study. For now, the correlation between full-fat dairy and diabetes risk reduction remains.

No Link to Increased Heart Disease

Multiple analyses find no significant link between full-fat dairy intake and death from heart disease or stroke. One review of 29 studies reported that participants with the highest full-fat dairy consumption had no increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

This may be related to the presence of certain fatty acids exclusive to dairy fat that support heart health. More research is underway.

Key Takeaway: Despite their high saturated fat content, full-fat dairy products like cheese do not appear to increase cardiovascular risk and may even reduce weight gain and diabetes risk, according to recent studies.

Nutrition per 1 oz ServingFull-Fat CheddarLow-Fat Cheddar
Protein (g)77
Fat (g)92
Saturated Fat (g)61
Calcium (%)2020

Important Things to Consider

When deciding between low or full-fat cheese, be sure to keep the following factors in mind:

  • Check the Ingredients List - Low-fat cheeses often contain more additives, preservatives and sodium to enhance flavor. Choose brands with the cleanest labels.
  • Focus on Fermented Cheese - Fermented varieties like aged cheddar may offer more probiotic benefits than fresh cheeses like mozzarella or ricotta.
  • Pair with Other Nutrient-Dense Foods - Enjoy cheese as part of an overall balanced diet high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein.
  • Practice Portion Control - Cheese is high in calories and sodium regardless of fat content. Stick to suggested 1-2 ounce serving sizes.
  • Consult Your Doctor - If you have high cholesterol, heart disease risk factors or needs tied to a medical condition, ask for personalized guidance.


Is 2% or whole milk cheese healthier?

For most people, there is little difference from a health standpoint. Both 2% and whole milk cheese supply protein, calcium and other nutrients. Whole milk cheese just contains more fat and calories. Those limiting calories or saturated fat may prefer 2%, while others can incorporate some full-fat cheese in moderation.

Is goat cheese more or less healthy than cow cheese?

Goat cheeses tend to be lower in fat and calories than full-fat cow's milk cheese. However, the Health Promotion Board still groups them in the full-fat category. Goat cheese does supply useful prebiotics to support gut and immune health. But as with any cheese, recommended serving sizes still apply.

What is the healthiest cheese you can eat?

Some good options include feta and goat cheese (lower in fat/calories but still offer robust flavor), parmesan (lower lactose levels, so may be easier to digest), and cheddar cheese (supplies gut-friendly probiotics). Ricotta cheese is high in protein, while cottage cheese is packed with calcium. Focus on getting an array of cheeses to obtain different nutrients.

Does cheese cause high cholesterol?

Research shows that saturated fat intake only moderately impacts blood cholesterol levels for most people. And studies find no link between full-fat dairy products, like cheese, and increased risk for heart disease. That said, some people may be "hyper-responders" who see a sizable rise in LDL cholesterol after eating high-saturated-fat foods. These individuals should take care to limit full-fat dairy. For most people, cheese can be incorporated as part of an overall balanced diet.


The debate over low vs full-fat cheese remains complicated, as both options come with unique pros and cons.

Full-fat cheese no longer deserves its reputation as wholly unhealthy, as research reveals key benefits related to weight management and diabetes prevention.

However, low-fat cheese fits the bill for those actively limiting calories, fat or saturated fat due to personal health goals or medical guidance.

Cheese Lover Chloe 🧀
Cheese Lover Chloe 🧀

I'm a total cheese fanatic! When I'm not busy studying to be a cheesemaker, you can find me scouring local farmers markets and specialty shops for new and exciting cheeses to try. Brie is my all-time fave, but I also love exploring aged goudas, funky blues, and rich creamy camemberts. Looking forward to sharing lots of melty, gooey cheese pics and reviews!