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Most cheeses deliver a healthy dose of protein and calcium (nice!) along with their saturated fat and sodium (not so nice). Here’s how to strike a good balance, whether you’re shopping for lower-fat dairy cheese (most of our "Best Bites") or a plant-based version (most of our "Honorable Mentions"). To see which brands made the cut, scroll down to our chart.

How we chose the best plant-based cheeses

Plant-based cheeses have arrived. Are they better for you?

On the upside, the best ones get their fat mostly from nuts like almonds or cashews instead of saturated fats like palm or coconut oil (or dairy).

But nuts can’t match the calcium and protein in most dairy cheeses. So we gave plant-based cheeses Honorable Mentions if they met our Best Bite limits for saturated fat and sodium but trailed behind in calcium or protein.

It’s too bad that plant-based winners—like Kite Hill, Treeline, and Miyoko’s—often come with a hefty price tag.

The best cheese blocks, slices, & shreds 

Best Bites have: No more than 3 grams of sat fat and 200 mg of sodium in 1 oz. (blocks and shreds) or 1 slice.

Dairy blocks, slices, & shreds

Shaving saturated fat off cheddar, mozzarella, Swiss, etc., is simple: Look for “lite,” “reduced fat,” “2%,” or “part-skim.”

Even full-fat “fresh” mozzarella (the kind in a Caprese salad) stays in Best Bite territory because its extra water displaces fat. Many shredded (“low-moisture”) mozzarellas also get Best Bites because they’re “part-skim,” not “whole milk.”

bag of Trader Joe’s Lite Shredded Mozzarella and bag of Good Planet Mozzarella
Trader Joe's, Marlena Koch - CSPI.

  • Trader Joe’s Lite Shredded Mozzarella. Even lighter than the usual part-skim dairy mozzarella.

  • Good Planet Mozzarella. A plant-based brand made with olive—not coconut—oil!

Choosing lower-fat cheeses doesn’t just keep your heart happy. It also bumps up the protein and calcium you get in exchange for the calories.

For example, an ounce of full-fat Cabot Vermont Sharp Cheddar has 7 grams of protein and 15 percent of a day’s calcium for 110 calories, while Cabot Lite50 Sharp Cheddar has more protein (8 grams) and calcium (20 percent of a day’s worth) for a third fewer calories (70). What a deal!

For many cheeses, salt is trickier to dodge than sat fat. Two highlights: Fresh mozzarella or Swiss shaves the sodium down to 100 milligrams or less per ounce. A cheddar typically has 200 mg or so.

block of Cabot Lite50 Sharp Cheddar, Miyoko’s Classic Mozzarel, Galbani Sliced Fresh Mozzarellala, Jarlsberg Lite Swiss slices
Blocks & slices
Cabot, Miyoko’s, Marlena Koch - CSPI (Galbani & Jarlsberg).

  • Cabot Lite50 Sharp Cheddar. Just misses a Best Bite...and a better dairy cheddar than most.

  • Miyoko’s Classic Mozzarella. No one does plant-based mozzarella like Miyoko’s.

  • Galbani Sliced Fresh Mozzarella. Any full-fat fresh dairy mozzarella is surprisingly light in sat fat.

  • Jarlsberg Lite Swiss. Tons of flavor and an ample 7 grams of protein for only 50 calories.

Plant-based blocks, slices, & shreds 

Olive-oil-based Good Planet slashes the saturated fat you’d get in competitors like coconut-oil-based Daiya. And Good Planet gets melty enough for pizza! Its shreds and blocks are too salty for Honorable Mentions, but overall, they still beat most other plant-based brands.

More great-tasting mozzarellas: Miyoko’s Classic Plant Milk Mozzarella (good melted or unmelted) or Pourable Plant Milk Mozzarella (for melting).

If you’re vegan or allergic to dairy, check the fine print. Some “cheese alternatives”—Trader Joe’s Almond Mozzarella Style shreds, for example—are free of lactose (milk sugar), but contain casein (a milk protein).

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The best cottage cheese

Best Bites have: No added sugar and no more than 1½ grams of sat fat and 350 mg of sodium in ½ cup.

Dairy cottage cheese 

The next time you tire of yogurt for a snack, breakfast, or mini-meal, pick up some protein-packed cottage cheese.

In fact, a ½ cup serving of a 2% (low-fat) cottage cheese like Good Culture has a whopping 14 grams of protein for just 80 calories, about the same stats as a 5.3 oz. tub of plain nonfat Greek yogurt.

Cottage cheese comes with more sodium than yogurt, but that salty taste and its zero tang mean you don’t need sugar or sweeteners. Toss in fresh or frozen fruit, and you’re set.

Plant-based cottage cheese

We didn’t find any plant-based cottage cheeses. Tip: Just trying to avoid lactose? Good Culture makes a lactose-free variety of 2% dairy cottage cheese.

tub of Good Culture Lactose Free 2% Cottage Cheese
Cottage cheese
Good Culture.

  • Good Culture Lactose Free 2% Cottage Cheese.  The best no-lactose dairy option around.

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The best ricotta cheese

Best Bites have: No more than 3 grams of sat fat and 100 mg of sodium in ¼ cup.

Dairy ricotta cheese 

“Part-skim” ricotta meets our saturated fat cutoff for a Best Bite. (“Low-fat” or “light” ricotta goes lower but can be hard to find.) Farmer cheese is similar (and some brands have no added salt!).

And ricotta isn’t just for lasagna. Try it (or farmer cheese) dolloped on pasta or spread on toast with fruit.

tub of Galbani Part Skim Ricotta

  • Galbani Part Skim Ricotta. Just about any brand of part-skim dairy ricotta will fit the bill.

Plant-based ricotta cheese

Two popular brands, Kite Hill and Tofutti, have more sodium than our Best Bites. Kite Hill’s ricotta beats Tofutti’s because you’re getting mostly almond milk (water and almonds). Tofutti’s top three ingredients: water, palm oil, and maltodextrin.

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The best cream cheese

Best Bites have: No added sugar and no more than 3 grams of sat fat and 200 mg of sodium in 2 Tbs.

Dairy cream cheese 

Unlike most cheeses, cream cheese has little calcium and protein to offer in return for its ample sat fat. A 2-tablespoon serving from a tub of (full-fat) Philadelphia Original Cream Cheese Spread, for example, has 4½ grams of sat fat (nearly a quarter of day’s max) and a mere 2 grams of protein and 2 percent of a day’s calcium.

A tub of Philadelphia 1/3 Less Fat Cream Cheese is only a tad better. It drops the sat fat to 3½ grams with no more calcium and just one more gram of protein. Philadelphia’s Whipped Cream Cheese cuts the sat fat to 2½ grams by whipping in more air (so it’s fluffier).

Plant-based cream cheese

Nut-based brands like Kite Hill and Treeline are also low in protein and calcium. But they have less sat fat and more healthy unsaturated fat (from almonds or cashews) than lower-fat dairy cream cheeses...and they taste oh-so smooth and creamy. Winner, winner!

Both trounce Nature’s Fynd, which fared poorly with our taste testers and has 7 grams of sat fat from coconut oil.

tubs of Kite Hill Plain Cream Cheese Alternative and Cedar’s Labne
Cream cheese & labne
Marlena Koch - CSPI.

  • Kite Hill Plain Cream Cheese Alternative. Tasty, plant-based, and healthy enough for dairy fans to try.

  • Cedar’s Labne. An uber-creamy dairy yogurt spread with stats close to less-fat cream cheese.

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The best feta

Best Bites have: No more than 2 grams of sat fat and 350 mg of sodium in 1 oz. (¼ cup of crumbles).

Dairy feta

Saturated fat is no big deal here. Even most full-fat fetas don’t top 3½ grams per ounce (¼ cup crumbled). A feta like Athenos Reduced Fat cuts that to 2 grams.

But feta’s saltiness is hard to dodge. While our Best Bites keep a lid on sodium, 350 mg isn’t low. The good news: Feta’s strong flavor makes it easy to use sparingly.

tub of Athenos Traditional Reduced Fat Feta
Marlena Koch - CSPI.

  • Athenos Traditional Reduced Fat Feta. Most lower-fat dairy fetas beat plant-based brands. A little sprinkle goes a long way on your next salad.

Plant-based feta

Big brands like Follow Your Heart and Violife are mostly water, coconut oil, and starch, and they have more saturated fat than full-fat dairy feta. The lone Honorable Mention: Olive-oil-based Good Planet.

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The best brie & fresh goat cheese

Best Bites have: No added sugar and no more than 3 grams of sat fat and 200 mg of sodium in 1 oz.

Dairy brie & goat cheese

There’s no way to replicate the richness of full-fat brie and cut back on its saturated fat, but if you’re satisfied with less, try Trader Joe’s Light Brie, our only Best Bite. Most fresh goat cheeses come close to Best Bite territory, even though they’re full-fat. (We found no reduced-fat ones.)

Plant-based goat cheese

Cashew-based Treeline racks up a few more Best Bites here. It’s a pity their goat cheeses can be tough to track down in supermarkets.

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The best cheese spreads

Best Bites have: No more than 3 grams of sat fat and 200 mg of sodium in 2 Tbs. or 1 wedge.

Dairy cheese spreads

Taste-wise, Best Bite spreadables like The Laughing Cow didn’t wow us. (Neither did the company’s “2g complete protein” claim. Two grams ain’t much.) Our advice: Go with plain Trader Joe’s Goat’s Milk Creamy Cheese. It’s yummy as is. Just don’t expect more than 3 grams of protein in any spreadable, dairy or plant-based.

Plant-based cheese spreads

The usual suspects—Kite Hill Soft Spreadable Cheese and Treeline French-Style Cashew Cheese—were delish. Bonus: Treeline’s Creamy Scallion flavor can double as a stand-in for scallion cream cheese on a toasted bagel. Mmm.

tubs of Trader Joe’s Goat’s Milk Creamy Cheese, Treeline Creamy Scallion French-Style Cashew Cheese, Kite Hill Garlic and Herb Soft Spreadable Cheese
Marlena Koch - CSPI (Kite Hill & Cedar's), Trader Joe's.

  • Trader Joe’s Goat’s Milk Creamy Cheese. Super-spreadable dairy goat cheese. Just right on whole-grain crackers or toast.

  • Treeline Creamy Scallion French-Style Cashew Cheese. Pricey, but a plant-based option that's worth every penny.

  • Kite Hill Garlic and Herb Soft Spreadable Cheese. What can’t Kite Hill do with almonds!

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The best cheese snacks

Best Bites have: No added sugar and no more than 3 grams of sat fat and 200 mg of sodium per stick, string, bar, or round.

Dairy cheese snacks

String cheese isn’t just for kids. It’s typically made of part-skim mozzarella, so almost any brand is a Best Bite. Or try a Babybel round or a light sharp cheddar stick or bar like Cabot Lite50 or Cracker Barrel 2% Milk.

For a more filling snack, pair your cheese string or stick with an apple, banana, or pear instead of shelling out for something like Sargento Balanced Breaks—cheese that’s individually packaged with dried fruit, crackers, or sugary morsels.

bags of BelGioioso Fresh Mozzarella Snacking Cheese and Sargento Light String Cheese.
Marlena Koch - CSPI.

  • BelGioioso Fresh Mozzarella Snacking Cheese. A perfect portion of fresh mozzarella.

  • Sargento Light String Cheese. Five grams of protein for 45 calories is a snacking deal.

Plant-based cheese snacks

You’re out of luck. Babybel Plant-Based White Cheddar, for example, is mostly water, modified food starch, and coconut oil, and has zero protein. It may be in Honorable Mention territory, but you’re better off snacking on a handful of nuts or seeds.

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Our chart ranking dairy and plant-based cheeses

For our Best Bite (✔✔) criteria, check the “Best Bites have” paragraph at the beginning of each section above. Honorable Mentions () are plant-based cheeses () that meet our Best Bite criteria but have less calcium or protein than dairy cheese. 


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