The Best Cheeses for a Low Carb Diet
Learn about the best cheeses to eat on a low carb diet, plus low carb cheese recipes for breakfast to dinner!
Disclaimer: The information in this article is not intended to replace personalized medical advice. A low carb diet may not be suitable for you. Consult your health care provider before making any changes to your lifestyle or use this information at your own risk.
A low carb or ketogenic diet places more emphasis on foods that are rich in fats so the body can use ketones from these food sources as an alternative energy source to glucose. High fat foods include nuts and seeds, dairy, oils, fatty cuts of meat, fatty fish, avocados, dark chocolate and whole eggs. It is important to choose healthy fats on a low carb diet, which means staying away from anything that is processed, refined or fried (note that restaurants also use a lot of oil to cook non-fried foods).
In this article, we explore the best types of cheeses to choose on a low carb diet. Dairy is one of those things that we’ve been told is “healthy” for a long time – it even makes up a whole “food group” in mainstream health studies! However, dairy is not necessary in our diets by any means and in certain cases it can cause more harm than good. That said, dairy is a convenient (and tasty!) source of fat for low carb and keto dieters, if you are not lactose intolerance and consume it in moderation. Keep reading to learn what you need to know about consuming cheese on a low carb diet. Plus, discover low carb cheese snacks as well as recipes for breakfast, lunch and dinner!
Is Cheese Necessary on a Low Carb or Keto Diet?
Dr. Mark Hyman, a practicing family physician and internationally recognized leader in Functional Medicine, states that cheese is not essential for a low carb or keto diet. Many people are able to do a vegan or dairy-free ketogenic diet. Although a lot of dietary fat can be obtained from dairy, he advises that we shouldn’t consume a lot of dairy given the current standards in dairy farming in North America. Many dairy cows are raised on poor grain-based diets and ensue questionable farming practices involving the use of chemical pesticides, which leach into the animals’ diets. In Canada, the use of growth hormones is illegal (unlike the US), however, some antibiotic use is permitted. Nonetheless, cows are large animals – meaning they produce high levels of their own natural hormones, which is not necessarily healthy for humans to consume often.
With all of that said, the right kinds of cheese and dairy can certainly be part of a balanced approach to a low carb or ketogenic diet. Some people may suffer from allergies that prevent them from eating nuts, seeds, eggs and other significant sources of dietary fat; so, they must reach for other options such as cheese and dairy. Others may choose to forgo meat and opt for a vegetarian keto diet. All of these options are perfectly fine and doable! The choice is up to you, and what works for one person may not work for another. Find what fits into your budget, health goals, and taste preferences.
The Best Cheeses for a Low Carb Diet
If you are shopping in Canada, always look for cheeses made from 100% Canadian dairy. Canadian dairy farmers are held to higher standards than American dairy farmers, so this is one step in the right direction towards making healthy choices. Another thing you can look out for is dairy from grass-fed cows. Grass-fed cows obtain significantly more nutrients from this type of diet and as a result, their meat and dairy contain more antioxidants and healthy fats.
Finally, consider other dairy options such as goat’s or sheep’s dairy. Since these animals are much smaller than cows, their milk contains less hormones. In addition, it also tends to contain less lactose (the naturally occurring sugar found in dairy), smaller and easier to digest fats, and potentially more vitamins and minerals.
Here are some of the best cheeses for a low carb or ketogenic diet:
- Goat Cheese
Aside from the above-mentioned benefits of choosing goat’s cheese over cow’s cheese, goat cheese also happens to be very low in carbs! A ¼ cup serving of crumbled goat cheese contains less than 1g of net carbs (0.7g), 10g of fat, 8g of protein and 125 calories. Depending on how it is processed, goat cheese may also contain healthy probiotics which can aid in digestion. Goat cheese has a tart and tangy taste that is not too overwhelming. It is a type of soft cheese with an almost spreadable texture.
Check out these low carb recipes using goat cheese:
- Keto Goat Cheese and Mushroom Frittata (you could also make an omelet or quiche, instead!)
- Low Carb Breakfast (Lunch or Dinner!) Hash with Chorizo and Goat Cheese
- Keto Goat Cheese Salad with Caramelized Walnuts – check out Swerve Brown Sugar Replacement, the perfect low carb substitute that browns and caramelizes just like regular sugar!
- Baked Asparagus with Lemon, Dill and Goat Cheese
- Low Carb Goat Cheese & Pistachio Covered Blackberries
- Feta Cheese
Feta cheese and goat cheese are often mistaken for one another, since they are both used in several delicious Mediterranean recipes! They are also very similar in taste, texture and appearance, but the main difference is that feta cheese is made from sheep’s milk. It also tends to be higher in sodium, giving it a sharper taste. A ¼ cup serving of crumbled feta cheese contains 1.5g net carbs, 8g of fat, 5g of protein and 100 calories. Like goat cheese, feta also contains beneficial bacteria (probiotics) and many essential vitamins and minerals.
Below are some recipes containing feta cheese. You could substitute either goat cheese or feta cheese in these recipes, as well as the ones above for goat cheese.
- Low Carb Feta, Tomato and Olive Muffins
- Keto Spinach & Feta Hasselback Chicken
- Baked Feta Cheese
- Low Carb Tabbouleh Salad with Feta Cheese (this recipe uses riced cauliflower instead of the traditional bulgur wheat!)
- Keto Tomato Soup with Feta Cheese
Halloumi cheese originates from Cyprus (an island in the Mediterranean) and is traditionally made from goat’s or sheep’s milk, but sometimes from cow’s milk, as well. It is often referred to as “grilling cheese” because it grills perfectly! It is on the harder side, meaning that it doesn’t melt and lose its shape when grilled. It is perfect for replacing meat on skewers or in salads if you follow a vegetarian diet or just simply enjoy vegetarian meals once in a while. One serving of halloumi cheese (about 80g or slightly more than ½ a cup) contains 1.5g net carbs, 20g of fat, 16g of protein and 250 calories. Check out some fun ways to use halloumi cheese below!
- Keto Halloumi Fries
- Mediterranean Cauliflower Rice with Halloumi
- Keto Grilled Halloumi Salad
- Keto Halloumi Zucchini Balls
- Low Carb Spiced Halloumi Veggie Skewers
Brie cheese is absolutely delicious in so many recipes, and it is also very low carb- and keto-friendly. One ¼ cup serving of brie cheese (about 36g) contains just 0.2g net carbs, 10g of fat, 7.5g of protein and 120 calories. Brie is a type of soft cheese, meaning it is best enjoyed warm and melty! You can also serve it on a low carb charcuterie board (check out our blog post on how to create the perfect low carb charcuterie board!). Some other great ways to use brie cheese are listed below.
- Keto Oven-Baked Brie with Herbs and Roasted Nuts
- Mushroom and Brie Keto Cauliflower Risotto
- Brussels Sprouts Sliders with Bacon and Brie (substitute the brown sugar in this recipe for Swerve Brown Sugar Replacement)
- Brie Spaghetti (substitute the traditional spaghetti noodles in this recipe for zucchini noodles or a low carb pasta alternative!)
- Low Carb Brie Appetizer Bites with Raspberry
- Blue Cheese
Some might say it’s an acquired taste, but the bold taste of blue cheeses gives you a lot of flavour, even when used in small amounts! However, feel free to use as much blue cheese as you like since a ¼ cup serving contains less than 1g of net carbs (0.8g)! This amount of blue cheese will also provide 10g of fat and 7g of protein at just 120 calories. Blue cheese offers a significant amount of calcium, even when compared to other cheeses. The enzymes in blue cheese also help break down the fat and proteins, making it one of the more easily digestible cow’s cheeses. Besides the standard “blue cheese”, other blue-veined cheeses include Roquefort, Danish Blue, Gorgonzola and Stilton.
Here are some low carb and keto-friendly recipes using blue cheese:
- Homemade Keto Blue Cheese Dressing
- Low Carb Blue Cheese Burgers
- Keto Spaghetti Squash with Bacon and Blue Cheese
- Keto Steak and Blue Cheese Salad
- Blue Cheese Stuffed Mushrooms
- Parmesan Cheese
Parmesan is one of the highest protein cheeses. Although protein is not a main component of ketogenic diets, parmesan cheese is also a decent source of fats and is very low in carbs. A ¼ cup serving of parmesan cheese contains 0.6g net carbs, 5g of fat, 7g of protein and just 80 calories. It is one of the most popular and versatile cheeses that can be used in several Italian-inspired dishes. It is a great addition to salads and low carb pasta dishes. Check out some recipe ideas below!
- Keto Caesar Salad
- Keto Chicken Parmesan or Eggplant Parmesan
- Easy Keto Parmesan Crisps – a great substitute for traditional high carb crackers and chips!
- Parmesan Roasted Cauliflower
- Cream Cheese, Ricotta Cheese or Cottage Cheese
Cream cheese is another great option for low carb and keto dieters, but it is important to note that some processed cream cheeses contain sugar and other additives. Always check the ingredients before buying packaged cream cheese from the grocery store, or see if your local deli counter has any unprocessed options. A ¼ cup serving of cream cheese contains 2.5g net carbs, 20g of fat, 3.5g of protein and 200 calories. This is definitely one of the higher fat options on this list, and a little goes a long way! Check out some recipe inspiration below.
- 3 Ingredient Cream Cheese Keto Pancakes
- Chocolate Cream Cheese Fat Bombs or Cheddar Ranch Savoury Fat Bombs
- Cream Cheese and Bacon Jalapeno Poppers
Other “spreadable” cheeses that are safe in moderate amounts include ricotta cheese and cottage cheese. These are both produced by the natural coagulation of fresh milk, making them some of the healthiest, most unrefined choices. A ¼ cup serving of ricotta cheese contains 2g net carbs, 8g of fat, 7g of protein and 110 calories. It also contains one of the highest calcium contents among other cheeses. Meanwhile, a ¼ cup serving of cottage cheese contains 2.5g net carbs, 2.5g of fat, 6g of protein and just 55 calories. Here are some more low carb recipes using ricotta or cottage cheese:
- Keto Lemon Ricotta Cake
- Keto Ricotta Gnocchi
- Cottage Cheese Breakfast Bowl
- Keto Breakfast Muffins with Cottage Cheese
Paneer is a type of cow’s milk cheese that is a staple in Indian cuisine. Indian recipes are great inspiration for vegetarian dishes, since most of the culture follows a vegetarian diet. Paneer is a soft cheese that doesn’t melt when cooked and has a tofu-like texture. It also has a very mild flavour on its own, so it can be used in many other recipes discussed in this article, as well. One ¼ cup serving of paneer contains about 2g net carbs, 6g of fat, 3g of protein and 85 calories. Below are some traditional and non-traditional recipes using paneer cheese. You can likely find paneer at a local ethnic foods store or in the international aisle of your supermarket.
- Paneer Tikka Kebabs
- Low Carb Paneer Makhani (Tangy Sweet Curry)
- Keto Paneer Steak with Spiced Cauliflower Rice
Cheeses to Avoid on a Low Carb Diet
Now that we’ve covered some of the best cheeses to try on a low carb diet, we also want to mention cheese varieties that are best avoided on these types of diets.
The main type of cheese to avoid on a low carb or ketogenic diet (or any diet, really) is processed cheese, such as American Cheese. This type of cheese is engineered, refined and loaded with preservatives. It also tends to be made from “modified milk ingredients” rather than fresh, whole milk – it’s classification as “cheese” seems far from reality! Low carb and keto dieters must be mindful of the quality of their food – not just the macronutrients – and avoiding anything that is highly processed or refined is key. One slice of American cheese also contains about 2g net carbs, which could comprise 10% of your daily carb allowance if you follow the standard guidelines for a ketogenic diet, which encourages 20g of carbs or less a day.
Similarly, you should avoid other forms of processed cheese found in things like string cheese, spray cheese, and pre-packaged shredded cheese.
More Low Carb Cheese Products
The Low Carb Grocery carries a large selection of cheese snacks suitable for low carb and keto dieters! We love Ivanhoe Nothing But Cheese shelf-stable crunchy cheese snacks, which are made with 100% Canadian cheese! Our customers also love Cello Cheese Whisps in Parmesan and Cheddar and Just The Cheese Snacks (try the Grilled Cheese Snack Bar!). Check out our full inventory of low carb cheese snacks here.