BEFORE YOU SAY pass the cheese” (or, let’s be real, hover outside your fridge scraping brie out of its rind with your bare hands), it may be helpful to know the difference between real cheese and processed cheese. You know, for your health.

“A lot of people assume that you have to give up cheese if you’re trying to eat healthier. But I eat cheese pretty much every day and encourage most of my clients to do the same,” says Kim Yawitz, R.D., a gym owner in St. Louis, MO.

Yawitz says that cheese can be a great source of protein, healthy fats, calcium, vitamin D, a host of B vitamins, and—in some cases—probiotics. “According to one meta-analysis of 15 studies, eating about 1.4 ounces of cheese every day may even lower your risk of heart disease and stroke,” she says.

The trick when it comes to cheese, says Yawitz, is knowing what to look for at the store.

“Real cheese is made by adding bacteria and enzymes to milk, which causes the milk to form curds. These curds are then turned into cheese,” she says, noting that cheese that’s made using this process has a very brief ingredients list and a limited shelf-life. “In most cases, you’ll find it in the refrigerated section of the store.”

On the other hand, Yawitz said highly processed cheese products “contain some cheese and a lot of additives—like dyes, preservatives, and emulsifiers,” citing American cheese, Provel, Velveeta, EZ Cheese, and Cheez Whiz as examples. “These ingredients—which are often added to improve shelf life and texture—make processed cheese products significantly less healthy than real cheese.”

“Processed cheese also tends to be much higher in sodium than real cheese. For example, one ounce of American cheese has more than 2.5 times as much sodium as one ounce of cheddar,” she continued. “Eating it on the regular could increase your odds for high blood pressure, especially if the rest of your diet is also high in sodium.”

Needless to say, opting for real cheese is the way to go for your health. Below, check out seven cheese varieties that get nutritionists’ stamp of approval.

Cottage cheese

Yawitz says that there’s a reason why bodybuilders eat so much low-fat cottage cheese—just one cup provides a whopping 24 grams of protein and only 183 calories.

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Protein aside, Yawitz also pints out that some types of cottage cheese contain beneficial bacteria that are thought to improve digestion, boost the immune system, and even promote weight loss. “Next time you’re in the dairy aisle, look for brands that have the words ‘live and active cultures’ on the label,” she says.

“I love to recommend cottage cheese as part of a protein and calcium-packed snack,” echoed Amy Gorin, M.S., R.D.N., owner of Plant Based with Amy. Gorin likes using cottage cheese as a dip for fruit or in a high-protein pasta sauce.

Parmesan cheese

“Parmesan cheese is so great because it adds a lot of flavor to recipes. Plus, harder cheeses like Parmesan tend to have a stronger flavor,” says Gorin, noting that a tablespoon of Parmesan only has 32 calories. “You also get 2 grams of protein in this small amount of cheese. It’s great as a topping for everything from salad to pizza to spaghetti squash.”

Goat cheese

“Goat cheese is an aged cheese that’s made with goat’s milk. It’s relatively high in protein and low in calories, with 6 grams of protein and 102 calories per ounce,” says Yawitz.

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Yawitz says you may be less likely to overeat goat cheese compared to cow’s milk cheese because goat’s milk contains more medium-chain fatty acids than cow’s milk. “These fats are digested and absorbed more quickly than long-chain fatty acids, helping you to feel fuller, faster.” Yawitz referenced one small study in which subjects reported significantly lower desire to eat and less post-meal hunger in participants after eating a breakfast with goat’s milk compared to a breakfast featuring cow’s milk.

Grana Padano

“Grana Padano is an aged Italian cheese that’s similar in flavor and texture to Parmigiano Reggiano. With 11 grams of protein and 122 calories per ounce, it’s a great addition to salads, scrambled eggs, and roasted veggies,” says Yawitz.

“Protein content aside, there’s some evidence that eating Grana Padano every day could actually help lower blood pressure,” she says. “As Grana Padano ages, the bacteria in the cheese sets off a series of chemical reactions that are thought to relax the blood vessels—allowing for blood to flow more freely through the body.”

Yawitz pointed to one small study in which adults with mild to moderately high blood pressure who ate a little over one ounce per day saw significant reductions in systolic and diastolic blood pressure after three months.

Swiss cheese

This sandwich staple turns out to be a pretty good choice in the dairy-verse.

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“Adding a slice of Swiss to your sandwich will boost your protein intake by nine grams at a cost of just 110 calories,” says Yawitz.

Brie

Along with goat cheese, another soft cheese that Gorin likes to recommend is brie. “In one ounce of brie, you get six grams of protein for 95 calories. For a healthier appetizer, I love to serve brie with homemade jam.”

Feta

Amanda Sauceda, M.S., R.D., is a big fan of feta cheese, which contains four grams of protein per one ounce service. “Feta can be a little saltier than other cheese, so you don’t need a lot to get the flavor and protein,” she says. “There is even research looking at how feta cheese can be made using probiotic starter cultures which means it can have implications for your gut health.”

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Next time you make a salad, consider sprinkling some feta on top—or stir it into pasta with black olives and some extra virgin olive oil for a quick weeknight meal.

Mozzarella

Sauceda calls mozzarella a classic, healthy, multipurpose cheese. “If you’re going to want a cheese that can go from snacking to melting in your quesadilla you might like mozzarella. You also have the ability to choose what level of fat you want,” she says. “You actually have higher protein per serving with nonfat mozzarella, but whole or part-skim are also high in protein,” she says, ticking off this cheese variety’s protein stats per 1.5 ounces:

  • Whole milk: 9 grams of protein
  • Part-skim: 10 grams of protein
  • Nonfat: 13 grams of protein

But you mozz be sure not to go overboard with this type of cheese—or any cheese variety, for that matter. As we know, cheese is very tasty and easy to overeat, especially if you’re snacking.

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