Is Cheese Part of Clean Eating?

Good news for cheese lovers – cheese is an allowable food when eating clean, as long as you pick a cheese that adheres to the clean eating principles. Here are some easy-to-reference criteria for buying a cheese that fits within the clean eating parameters:

  • Block Cheese (not pre-grated): Pre-shredded cheese sold in bags contains an anti-caking agent called cellulose that’s sometimes made from wood pulp. Its used to prevent the little indivisual cheese shreds from clumping together. Remember, there is always a catch with convenience foods. You may have noticed the pre-grated cheese sometimes feels like it has a bit of a powerdery consistency.  Its subtle, but its sometimes detectable. Thats the anti-caking agent you’re detecting. Instead, buy a block of cheese and grate it yourself.It’ll take only a couple moments of your time, and you won’t be getting those additives that don’t belong in your good.  Plus the texture is better – none of that  “powdery” feel.
  • Some clean eating advocates advise to eat only white cheese because natural cheese is never any other color. Well, they have a point in that cheese is made from milk or cream, so its not natural for it to be orange. Yes, additives are used to give it the organe color, however it is a completely natural additive that is extracted from the oranged colored and flavorless Annatto seed.  Some clean eaters object on the basis of taking a stand against any type of additives being put into food, ven natural additives, unless they are adding beneficial food valye. That seems a little extreme to me, but everyone has a right to the philospohical opions. I get what they are thinking – it can be a slippery slope.  But because it is completely natural and completely safem it is not an artificial color created by chemicals, I agree with the vast majority of clean eaters that orange cheddar is healthy, clean and safe. 
  • Full Fat: Reduced-fat or non-fat food products are heavily processed – that’s how the get the fat out. Nutrition experts will tell you that it is healthier to eat the full fat than it is to eat the altered low fat version of any kind of dairy product, including cheese.
  • Organic: Its always ideal if you can choose organic options of any type of food, but many people can not afford the cost of organic food.
  • GrassFed: Cows are meant to eat grass (not corn). When animals are fed a proper diet, the way nature intended for them to eat  their food products are more nutritious for US.  Sometimes it’s hard to find, and it may be more expensive, but ideally look for cheeses that either say “grass-fed” or “pasture raised” on the package.  Not a deal breaker though.

Cream Cheese

Regular cream cheese has a fair amount of fat, especially the artery-clogging kind, for a pretty moderate serving. Cream cheese also doesn’t provide a significant amount of any good-for-you nutrients.

If you do choose the fat-free, you may be disappointed in the flavor and the laundry list of preservatives (they need to replace the fat with something!).

The Verdict: If you’re a cream cheese lover, choose a touch of whipped or light cream cheese to get your fill. (A tub of the whipped variety is a staple in my house!) To make a little go even further, add your own ingredients (like fresh chives, scallions or freshly chopped veggies) for more flavor.

Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian and consultant who specializes in food safety and culinary nutrition.




It can be colored, shredded and mixed with powdered anti-caking agents and, as I mentioned, powdered for packaged “foods”.

So what’s a clean eater to do?

While the purists out there would probably make their own or avoid it all together, the rest of us are left with what we can purchase in the store if we want it. So how do you make the best choice in the dairy aisle?


  1. Avoid process slices. Yep, sorry. That package of American, orange, plastic, flavorless slices that melt so well on bread are anything but clean. Have you looked at the ingredient list lately? Instead, opt for real sliced cheddar.
  2. Avoid packaged, shredded cheeses. The stuff you find pre-shredded at the store may be convenient, but it has anti-caking agents added to keep all those little shreds from sticking together in one big clump. Instead, opt for a brick of cheese you can easily shred at home.
  3. Avoid powdered cheeses. If it comes in powder form (like in a box of mac and cheese), it’s most definitely not clean.
  4. Avoid “cheese” from a spray can. I’m not even sure that stuff qualifies as cheese!
  5. Avoid low fat or non-fat cheeses. They are heavily processed!


  1. Look for the real deal. Buy actual cheddar, actual havarti or gouda. There are so many options out there! The safest bet is always the block or wedge.
  2. If you can afford organic, that’s always the better option, but not essential. Buy the best you can afford.
  3. Some clean eaters worry about the fat content in regular cheese. The truth is, healthy fats from real cheese are not the worst thing you can be eating. Just keep it in moderation. You really wouldn’t want to polish off an entire block of cheddar on your own anyway. So keep things reasonable and there should be no reason you can’t enjoy the real stuff on a semi-regular basis.






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