I have good news! Not all cheese is bad for you, so if you’re a cheese lover, make sure you choose the healthiest cheese out there: feta. That’s right, feta cheese nutrition can actually support health.
Cheese is a delicious, savory addition to many dishes, but with the rise in popularity of processed dairy, it’s become a product many people avoid when sticking to a healthy diet.
Made from sheep and/or goat milk (often combined), feta cheese is a nutrient-rich option for getting the flavor you’re looking for without the guilt. Feta is easier to digest and much less allergenic and inflammatory than cheeses from cow’s milk, which is encouraging to those of you who may be sensitive to dairy products.
However, it’s important to also remember that feta cheese, high in sodium and saturated fat, should be used sparingly, not every day.
What Is Feta Cheese?
The word “feta,” used by Greeks to describe this extremely popular cheese, comes from the Italian word fetta, which means “slice.” While the European Union now has specific qualifications of feta cheese, it’s possible to find “feta” cheese in other parts of the world that is made from cow or buffalo milk.
Feta is a soft brined cheese characterized by few to no holes, a tangy taste and no skin. Feta cheese nutrition depends on exactly what brand and type of feta you get. Traditional feta is made either from pure sheep’s milk or a combination of sheep’s and goat’s milk (and no more than 30 percent goat’s milk).
The earliest documented reference to the production of feta cheese was in Greece, in the eighth century B.C. The technology described in Homer’s Odyssey to create this cheese from sheep and goat milk is actually similar to the method modern shepherds employ. Popular in ancient Greece, feta cheese was vital to Greek gastronomy.
However, what we consider feta cheese today was first recorded in the Byzantine Empire under the name “prósphatos,” meaning “fresh.” Its brine storage and marketing were later explained by an Italian visitor to the island of Crete.
Feta Cheese Nutrition Facts
A one-ounce serving of feta cheese (about 28.4 grams) contains approximately:
- Calories: 75.1
- Total Carbohydrates: 1.1 g
- Total Fat: 6.1 g
- Saturated Fat: 3.8 g
- Polyunsaturated Fat: 0.2 g
- Monounsaturated Fat: 1.3 g
- Trans Fat: 0 g
- Protein: 4 g
- Vitamin B12: 0.5 mcg (21% DV)
- Sodium: 323 mg (14% DV)
- Riboflavin: 0.2 mg (15% DV)
- Calcium: 140 mg (11% DV)
- Phosphorus: 95.5 mg (8% DV)
- Selenium: 4.3 mcg (8% DV)
- Vitamin B6: 0.1 mg (6% DV)
*Daily Value: Percentages are based on a diet of 2,000 calories a day.
1. May Help Protect Against Cancer
Perhaps one of the most intriguing benefits of feta cheese nutrition is it’s a potential cancer-fighting food. As a calcium-rich food, feta cheese allows you to take advantage of research suggesting that calcium (combined with vitamin D) helps protect the body against various types of cancer.
It’s not just calcium in feta cheese nutrition that protects against cancer. The protein alpha-lactalbumin can be found in this Greek cheese as well, and when it binds to calcium and zinc ions, it has been suggested to have antibacterial and antitumor properties.
In addition, peptides found in this type of cheese have shown promising anti-cancer properties.
2. Supports Bone Health
You probably already know that calcium is good for your bones. It increases peak bone mass, especially in children and teens into those in their 20s. The greater your peak bone mass, the less risk you are at for osteoporosis and other conditions involving the loss of bone mass.
Feta cheese nutrition is certainly rich in calcium, and it’s been researched for its effects on enhancing bone health, showcasing the ability to strengthen bones.
3. Helps Boost Immune System
When histidine is combined with vitamin B6 (also found in feta cheese), it undergoes a molecular process to become histamine. That compound is part of the inflammatory process. Although it is generally important to remove foods that cause inflammation from your diet, a small degree of inflammation is what allows your immune system to fight disease.
Eating foods like feta cheese sparingly, combined with a diet high in antioxidants to protect from the damage of excess inflammation, can ensure a healthy immune system ready to fight disease the way it was originally designed. (Plus, as a bonus, feta cheese also holds probiotics, which also help your immune system fight infection and disease!)
4. Helps Maintain a Healthy Gut
Another good thing about feta cheese nutrition is that is provides you with helpful probiotics! Probiotics are the bacteria that line your gut. When they go out of whack, your body becomes a breeding ground for bacteria, yeast, fungi, parasites and many other very unsavory things.
Not only are probiotics immunity boosters, but they allow you to maintain a healthy gut and avoid many digestive problems common in high-stress lifestyles, especially in people who regularly consume GMOs, sugary foods and are exposed to antibiotics and other dangerous chemicals.
5. May Help Prevent Headaches
A diet rich in vitamin B2 can serve as a preventative method to limit migraines and other types of chronic headache.
6. Protects Eyes
Riboflavin is good for more than one part of your noggin! Studies show that people whose diets are high in vitamin B2 are at a lower risk of degenerative eye diseases, such as cataracts, keratoconus and glaucoma (all of which are associated with aging).
7. Can Help with Anemia
Anemia is related to a problem with the hemoglobin cell that carries oxygen throughout the body. When your body is unable to get enough oxygen to the cells and tissues, it becomes weak and fatigued.
Associated with low levels of iron, folic acid or vitamin B12, anemia can be naturally treated with certain foods and supplementation of the deficient nutrients. Therefore, the vitamin B12 (and small amount of iron) found in feta cheese can serve as part of a diet to fight anemia.
Feta is generally used as a topping for salads and other types of food. You can use feta cheese raw or cooked.
Many recipes call for feta cheese crumbles, but you’ll also find many recipes that use slices of feta.
One of our best recipes involving feta is this Roasted Beet Salad. It’s a simple salad with antioxidant-rich beets, using feta cheese as a topping.
Hungry for grilled cheese? Then I suggest using feta as part of this Avocado Grilled Cheese sandwich. Trust me, you will be really happy you did.
Risks and Side Effects
While feta cheese is significantly less allergenic than cheese derived from cow’s milk, it is still possible to be allergic to goat or sheep milk. Most people with a diagnosed cow’s milk allergy also find that their bodies recognize the same proteins in goat’s milk.
However, if you are sensitive but not allergic to cow’s milk, you will probably find products like feta to be a great alternative.
Another potential caution when consuming feta cheese is for those suffering from histamine intolerance. Histamine is a vital protein in small doses to help your body fight infection, but too much of it causes excess inflammation. People who suffer from histamine intolerance, unlike most people, have a very hard time breaking down histamine when it exists in high levels in the body and may experience allergy-like symptoms when consuming food containing the histamine protein.
If you experience symptoms like hives, sweating or swelling after consuming feta cheese or other goat/sheep milk products, stop eating, and consult your physician immediately.
- Feta cheese nutrition provides B vitamins, calcium, phosphorus and more.
- Benefits of feta cheese nutrition include its ability to protect against cancer, support bone health, boost immunity, maintain gut health, prevent headaches, protect eyes and help treat anemia.