Health

Can the new cheeses with added probiotics, protein and charcoal really be gouda for your health? 

Sales of cheese — one of the UK’s favourite comfort foods — were up by a massive 15 per cent at the height of the pandemic last year, according to market researcher Kantar. 

While many of us find cheese delicious, it does tend to be packed with fat, calories and salt. So could one of the ‘healthier’ cheese options — whether low calorie, high protein, cheese with added vitamins, or gut-friendly bacteria and even charcoal — be a good option? 

Here, dietitian Sophie Medlin, chair of the British Dietetic Association for London and founder of City Dietitians Clinics in London, looks at some of the newest products on the market. We then rate them. 

Babybel Plus + Live Cultures 

Two 20g cheeses, £1, Boots.

Per 100g: Calories, 308; saturated fat, 16g; protein, 23g; sugar, 0g; salt, 1.8g

Claim: ‘Enriched with a billion active lactobacillus cultures.’

Expert verdict: This vegetarian cheese is made with pasteurised milk, vegetarian rennet (traditional rennet uses animal stomach enzymes), salt and ‘live’ probiotic lactobacillus cultures — beneficial bacteria that help the body absorb nutrients, fight harmful bacteria and support the immune system. 

Dairy can protect the bacteria on the way to the gut. Like most cheese, this is high in salt and saturated fat, and the two-cheese serving has 12 per cent of the recommended daily salt limit and a third of saturated fat. It has a third of your daily calcium intake and 9g of protein.

Taste: Mild flavoured cheese with a firm, creamy texture.

8/10 

Babybel Plus + Live Cultures

The Laughing Cow Chickpea and Cheese Spread  

133g, £1.40, Morrisons.

Per 100g: Calories, 216; saturated fat, 2.4g; protein, 11.5g; sugar, 2.5g; salt, 1.7g

Claim: ‘The goodness of both dairy and plant-based ingredients. Rich in protein, calcium and vitamin E.’

Expert verdict: The triangles are made with rehydrated skimmed milk powder and 25 per cent chickpeas, and have 80 per cent less saturated fat than the original Laughing Cow triangles. These are rich in protein but still have 50 per cent less than other dairy cheeses here. 

Chickpeas are a good source of magnesium, for strong bones, while calcium comes from the milk. You’ll get 15 per cent of your daily calcium in each triangle; that’s about the same as from a portion of cheddar, and 14 per cent of your daily vitamin E, mainly from sunflower oil. But it’s highly processed with a significant amount of salt, plus sugar from the milk.

Taste: Tasty mix of cheese and chickpeas. 

5/10

The Laughing Cow Chickpea and Cheese Spread

The Laughing Cow Chickpea and Cheese Spread

Violife Mozzarella Flavour Grated  

200g, £2.50, ocado.com

Per 100g: Calories, 298; saturated fat, 22g; protein, 0g; sugar, 0g; salt, 1.7g

Claim: ‘With coconut oil and vitamin B12. Free from dairy, soya, gluten, lactose, nuts and preservatives.’

Expert verdict: This vegan mozzarella alternative is made with 24 per cent coconut oil and flavouring. The oil provides 6.6g saturated fat in a recommended 30g serving — 39 per cent more than in regular mozzarella, and more than a fifth of your daily limit. 

There’s no protein, making this more of a vegan fat alternative than a cheese swap. It’s salty, too, with 0.5g in 30g. But it’s fortified with vitamin B12, for the nervous system, which some vegans can lack. A 30g portion will give you 30 per cent of your daily needs.

Taste: Authentic cheesy aroma — but this has an odd, rubbery texture.

2/10 

Violife Mozzarella Flavour Grated

Violife Mozzarella Flavour Grated

Cheshire Cheese Charcoal Cheddar 

200g, £4.95, cheshirecheesecompany.co.uk

Per 100g: Calories, 390; saturated fat, 20.8g; protein, 25.5g; sugar, 0.1g; salt, 1.8g

Claim: ‘Mature cheddar blended with activated charcoal’, an ingredient the maker says is receiving ‘rave reviews’ for its ability to ‘help remove harmful toxins from your body’.

Expert verdict: Activated charcoal, a fashionable ingredient, is made by heating materials such as coconut shells or wood pulp to make it very porous, so the charcoal can mop up chemicals. Activated charcoal can filter water, but it’s a bad idea to add it to food. There’s only a tiny amount here, so it’s unlikely to be harmful. Activated charcoal has potential to ‘mop up’ nutrients such as calcium. Like most cheddars, this cow’s milk cheese is high in protein, with 13g per 50g portion, but it’s also high in saturated fat and salt.

Taste: Soft, creamy and mild. Can’t taste the charcoal.

4/10 

Cheshire Cheese Charcoal Cheddar

Cheshire Cheese Charcoal Cheddar

Cauldron Greek-style cubes in Med Herbs  

250g, £2, waitrose.com

Per 100g: Calories, 147; saturated fat, 1.3g; protein, 10g; sugar, 0.7g; salt, 1.5g

Claim: ‘Dairy-free, low in saturated fat, high in protein and a great source of calcium.’

Expert verdict: These tofu cubes — creamy soya bean curd in an oil, vinegar, lemon juice and herb dressing — are a handy alternative to Feta for vegans. This has about half the calories and fat of regular Feta and 92.5 per cent less saturated fat. 

It’s a complete protein, so will supply all the essential amino acids needed for body functions. You’ll get 7g protein per 70g. The claims suggest this can boost fibre, but it’s just 1.4g more fibre per portion than Feta. And even though it has 22 per cent less salt than Feta, it’s still a high-salt food.

Taste: A passable substitute.

7/10

Cauldron Greek-style cubes in Med Herbs

Cauldron Greek-style cubes in Med Herbs

St Helen’s Farm Hard Mild Goat’s Cheese  

170g, £2.85, tesco.com

Per 100g: Calories, 365; saturated fat, 16.1g; protein, 26.6g; sugar, 0.1g; salt, 1.6g

Claim: ‘High in protein and calcium’ and can be suitable for people avoiding cow’s milk cheese.

Expert verdict: Although more research is needed, it is thought that the different structures of proteins in goat’s milk can make it easier for some people who struggle to digest cow’s milk. This product has a high protein content, with a 50g portion providing just over 13g. You’ll get 67 per cent of your recommended daily calcium, too. But a high saturated fat and salt content means that it’s best eaten in moderation.

Taste: Sweet, with mild goat’s cheese flavour.

7/10  

St Helen's Farm Hard Mild Goat's Cheese

St Helen’s Farm Hard Mild Goat’s Cheese

Eatlean Protein Cheese 

200g, £2.50, asda.com

Per 100g: Calories, 169; saturated fat, 1.3g; protein, 37g; sugar, 0.1g; salt, 2g

Claim: ‘Half the calories, 90 per cent less fat, 45 per cent more protein than regular cheddar.’

Expert verdict: When fat is removed in the cheese-making process, you end up with a higher percentage of protein and fewer calories. Compared to regular cheddar, this has just 6 per cent of the saturated fat, half the calories and almost 50 per cent more protein. 

A 50g serving has 18.5g protein — the highest here. Like all dairy products, this is a good source of calcium: a serving will provide 70 per cent of your daily needs. But a lot of salt has been added to boost the flavour and this has the highest salt content of all the products here.

Taste: Mild cheddar flavour; dense, rubbery texture. 

4/10 

Eatlean Protein Cheese

Eatlean Protein Cheese

Pimp My Salad Hemp Parmesan 

156g, £3.59, ocado.com

Per 100g: Calories, 531; saturated fat, 4.6g; protein, 26.1g; sugar, 1.1g; salt, 0.2g

Pimp My Salad Hemp Parmesan

Pimp My Salad Hemp Parmesan

Claim: ‘Exceptionally rich in omega-3 and omega-6 healthy fats and minerals. Hemp flour is 69 per cent fibre and contributes to the full factor, which may help with weight loss.’

Expert verdict: This is made with shelled hemp seeds and coarse hemp powder, sunflower seeds and nutritional yeast, a seasoning that’s a good source of vitamin B12, important for our nervous system and not found naturally in vegan diets. This is much lower in saturated fat and salt than regular Parmesan. 

Hemp seeds contain omega-3s but not the specific type or quantity needed for heart and brain health. As claimed, there’s fibre here — but just 0.5g in 20g (2.7 per cent of your daily minimum). With roughly the same amount of fat and calories as regular Parmesan, this is a great vegan alternative but won’t help with weight loss.

Taste: Powerful herb flavour; crunchy texture.

5/10 

Nush Almond M*ilk Natural Ch*ese Spread 

150g, £2.50, sainsburys.co.uk

Per 100g: Calories, 215; saturated fat, 1.7g; protein, 7g; sugar, 1.4g; salt, 1.16g

Claim: A ‘dairy free … source of protein’. It contains ‘60 almonds per [150g] pot’ and is churned with ‘live vegan cultures’.

Expert verdict: This vegan cheese spread is made with 95 per cent almond milk. The nuts are a good source of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, protective antioxidant vitamin E and minerals selenium and zinc (important for a strong immune system) but there are only likely to be small quantities. 

This has just a tenth of the saturated fat of full-fat dairy cream cheese but the same calories. The live bacterial cultures could have gut-health benefits, but I’m disappointed it isn’t fortified with any of the nutrients we rely on getting from dairy, such as vitamins B12 and D.

Taste: Like cream cheese.

8/10 

Nush Almond M*ilk Natural Ch*ese Spread

Nush Almond M*ilk Natural Ch*ese Spread

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