Best picks when choosing cheese and
Dairy fat--the kind that comes in butter,
milk, and cheese‑-is saturated, plain and simple. So if you want to
spare your arteries, you need to switch to (trans-free) margarine,
fat-free or low-fat milk, or reduced-fat hard cheese.
you've also got to watch the sour cream you spoon onto your baked
potato, the ricotta you tuck into your lasagna, the cream cheese you
use for your Sunday "schmear," and the cheese spreads that grace
your crackers. Each can pack a wallop of heart trouble. Here's how
to dodge it without disappointing your taste buds.
Two tablespoons of full-fat sour cream deliver three
grams of saturated fat. That's 15 percent of your daily limit of bad
fat. But all the fat-frees we tasted were bland and not very creamy
(Cabot Vermont and Daisy are the best of the bunch, though they
taste more like plain yogurt).
Solution: try a reduced-fat
(like Breakstone's) or a light (like Friendship, Land O Lakes, or
Cabot Vermont). They cut the sat fat from three grams to two or 1
1/2 (in two tablespoons). But blindfolded, you could easily mistake
them for full-fat.
If you can find Vermont Butter & Cheese Company Fromage
Blanc, you're in business. The company has figured out how to turn
fat-free milk into something that tastes exactly like rich, full-fat
A bowl of cottage
cheese with sliced bananas, blueberries, or peaches is a classic.
But half a cup of regular, full-fat cottage cheese (the label will
say 4 percent milkfat) chews up three of your 20 grams of saturated
fat for the entire day. Why bother when you can get away with half
that much in an equally creamy 2 percent milkfat cottage cheese?
Most companies make one.
Friendship, Light n' Lively,
Borden, Knudsen, and others offer 1 percent milkfat cottage cheese.
While not as creamy as 2 percent, they're a real bargain at no more
than one gram of sat fat per half cup.
cheese? You're skating on thin ice. Some (Breakstone's Free Small
Curd, for example) are bland, others taste too salty or sour. Some
companies jazz up their 1 percent or fat-free cottage cheese by
adding fruit‑-usually pineapple‑-plus sugar or artificial
And remember to check the sodium on your cottage
cheese label. Most plain ones range from 400 to 500 mg in a half
cup. While less is better, don't even think about "no salt added"
brands. Even the salt shaker can't fix them.
Cream cheese is more cream than cheese. Two
tablespoons coat your arteries with five or six grams of saturated
fat (and only two grams of protein‑-much less than most cheeses).
Our advice: ratchet down the fat until your taste
buds say "uncle." Neufchtel‑-a spreadable unripened white
cheese‑-brings the sat fat to four grams, yet looks and tastes
exactly like full-fat cream cheese. Whipped cream cheese slices off
another half gram by replacing cream cheese with air. (If you like
flavored cream cheese, try Philadelphia Whipped Cinnamon 'N Brown
Sugar on cinnamon-raisin toast or Whipped Mixed Berry on a blueberry
Most people will have no argument with light cream
cheese (three grams of sat fat), especially if it's sitting under a
layer of lox and freshly sliced red onion and tomato.
Fat-frees may disappoint some taste buds, though.
Philadelphia's fat-free tub may taste richer than its fat-free
brick, but it still registers as sour on some tongues. In fact, the
Fat Free Strawberry tub works best probably because its sweetness
masks its sourness.
nothing like a little whipped topping to lure nonfruit-lovers to a
bowl of fresh berries. But odds are, "a little" is at least double
the serving that appears on labels‑-two (level) tablespoons. While
our chart uses a more-realistic four-tablespoon serving (a
quarter-cup), stopping there is no piece of cake, either.
Luckily, you can now find fat-free Reddi Wip and Cool Whip.
They're airy and surprisingly good. Just keep in mind that
"fat-free" means less than half a gram of fat in two tablespoons.
Keep eating and you'll move out of fat-free range.
problem, especially with Cool Whip, since the brand is largely
hydrogenated coconut and palm kernel oils (Reddi Wip is cream). Both
oils are fully, not partially, hydrogenated, so they don't contain
trans fat. But they're saturated, so you can't pile it on like
there's no tomorrow.
Reddi Wip Light, with half a gram of
sat fat, is also a Best Bite. It's denser and richer than the
fat-frees and has that marvelous mouthfeel of ice-cream-parlor
whipped cream. Of course, that just makes it harder to stop at four
They range from gourmet brands
with French names (Alouette, Rondele) to office holiday party fare
(Kaukauna, WisPride) to Super Bowl party staples (Price's). If
you're not careful, a modest two-tablespoon serving of cheese spread
can coat your crackers‑- not to mention your arteries‑-with five to
eight grams of saturated fat. Fortunately, some brands have seen the
Alouette, Boursin, Fleur de Lait, and Rondele each
has a line of light spreads that cuts the sat fat to three grams or
less. (Only Fleur de Lait is a good source of calcium.) We tried
each brand's garlic and herb flavor. Our favorite: Boursin Light
Garlic & Fine Herbs. The company infuses its first-rate cheese
with a complex mix of garlic, parsley, and chives. But the others
also have their charms. Rondele Lite Garlic & Herbs has a deep
peppery cast, Alouette Light Garlic & Herbs delivers a delicate
onion flavor, and Fleur de Lait Light Minced Garlic & Herbs is
spiked with chunks of real garlic.
The Laughing Cow cheeses
are a hot commodity. The individually wrapped Light Creamy, Original
Creamy Swiss, and Light Gourmet Cheese Bites are portable process
cheese. But their rich taste and tangy bite are a far cry from
Kaukauna Lite and WisPride Lite‑-they're
the same cheese spreads sold under different brand names‑-aren't
quite as notable. The Lite Port Wine, for example, has zero wine
taste (as does the non-lite version).
Some brands are low
enough in saturated fat (three grams) to get a Best Bite, even
though they're not light. Heluva Good spreads are far richer and
creamier than the Kaukaunas and WisPrides. The Port Wine tastes like
it contains something you had to remove a cork to get. The Sharp
Cheddar has that bite that cheddar lovers crave. And the Cheddar
& Horseradish has the intensity of freshly grated horseradish.
Rising Sun Farms' delicious Lite Pesto Dried Tomato Cheese
Torta is also a real find. Each dip gets a slightly different mix of
its three layers: pesto, dried tomato, and Neufchtel cheese.
Unripened Goat Cheese
"Chevre" means goat in
French. But for many people, it means a rich, full-flavored cheese
that you'd never expect to be lowish in fat. In fact, we found
enough Best Bites to keep you in goat cheese for some time.
Soft goat cheeses are 60 percent water, which keeps the sat
fat (and, unfortunately, the calcium) down. But the taste is
anything but diluted. One nibble of just about any of our Best
Bites‑-Chavrie or Vermont Butter & Cheese Company Creamy Goat
Cheese, for example‑-and you'll swear they've got more than three
grams of sat fat.
(French for fresh cream) is a thickened cream that restaurants often
spoon over soups or desserts. But just two tablespoons carry seven
grams of saturated fat‑-a third of a day's worth. Mascarpone, an
Italian double- or triplecream cheese that's often used to make
tiramisu or served on top of fresh fruit, has eight grams of sat
More familiar to most people is ricotta. It's the
traditional cheese in lasagna, stuffed shells, and ravioli. Luckily,
you can now find fat-free, low-fat, and light versions. All get Best
Bites (no more than two grams of sat fat in a quarter cup).
Part-skim, at three grams of sat fat, has only a third less sat fat
than whole-milk ricotta.