If you’re a lover of cheese, you might wonder what kind of cheese, if any, is good for you. Goat cheese, with its tangy taste and crumbly texture, has earned a reputation as being one of the healthiest cheese choices there is. What are some of the reasons that nutritionists and even certain obesity experts now recommend eating goat cheese (that is if you can tolerate it)? Goat cheese provides healthy fats, is easier for many people to digest than cow’s milk cheeses, and is even a bit lower in calories and fat than other cheeses.
Cow milk and goat milk are by far the two most popular types used to make dairy products like yogurt, kefir and cheese. While good-quality cow milk does have certain benefits — I recommend consuming raw milk from A2 casein cows whenever possible — there are a number of reasons why you might want to have goat milk instead. Some people simply prefer the unique taste of goat’s milk to other cheeses, but as you’ll learn goat’s milk also has a chemical composition that makes it a superior choice for many people.
People living in places such as France have been consuming high-quality goat cheeses for thousands of years — in fact, historians believe that goat’s cheese was likely one of the first dairy products to ever be consumed. With some effort you can still find traditionally made, organic and even raw goat cheeses today that provide you with protein, calcium and other essential nutrients. Let’s take a look at what makes goat cheese a good addition to your diet, how it’s different from other cheeses (such as cottage cheese and feta cheese) and what types of goat cheese recipes you might consider making.
6 Goat Cheese Benefits
According to the Journal of Dairy Science,”Numerous varieties of goat milk cheeses are produced worldwide. Proteolysis and lipolysis are two major biochemical processes in the multifaceted phenomenon of cheese aging, which involves a variety of chemical, physical, and microbiological changes under controlled environmental conditions.” (1)
Like other cheeses, goat cheese is made by allowing raw milk to curdle, coagulate and thicken. The milk is then drained, leaving behind curds of tasty, high-fat cheese. A traditional way of making soft or semi-soft goat cheese is to fill cheesecloths with curds and then to hang them in warm kitchen for several days to cure. Certain types of goat cheeses are then aged by storing them in cool places for several months so they can continue to cure and harden.
Factors that influence how goat cheese turns out include: fatty acid composition, lipolytic enzymes, starter and nonstarter bacteria that are present, pH and moisture levels of the curds, storage temperature and time, salt content, salt-to-moisture ratio, surface area that is exposed, and humidity.
Below are some of the major benefits associated with goat cheese:
1. Provides Healthy Fats
Why is goat cheese a source of healthy fat? A serving of full-fat goat cheese provides about six grams of fat, much of which is saturated fat. Even though saturated fat has earned a reputation for being unhealthy and “dangerous” for your heart, there’s a lot of evidence that this isn’t the case. For example, France is one of the world’s leading consumers of cheese and butter, yet the French don’t have higher rates of heart disease compared to other nations that consume less. In fact, “the French paradox” describes the low rates of coronary heart disease death rates in France despite high intake of dietary cholesterol and saturated fat. (2) Healthy fats are an important part of every diet because fat helps facilitate nutrient absorption, hormone production, protects neurological health and much more.
Overall cow and goat milk have similar amounts of fat, but the fat globules found in goat milk are smaller and tend to be easier to digest. Compared to cow’s milk, goat’s milk has a higher proportion of medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs), including caproic acid, caprylic acid and capric acid. This is one reason why goat’s milk products have a more tart flavor to compared to cow’s milk. MCFAs are also found in fatty foods like coconut oil and coconut milk; they have been shown to help support energy metabolism and are easily digested, even by people who have a hard time metabolizing fats. (3)
Caprylic acid found in goat milk and goat cheese has been found to possess antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal and anti-inflammatory properties. Consuming caprylic acid may be helpful for fighting fungal and yeast infections, such as candida, urinary tract infections, acne, digestive problems and more. (4, 5)
Can you eat goat cheese if you’re following a low-carb diet, such as the ketogenic diet? Yes, and you probably should. Goat’s milk kefir, a fermented “drinkable yogurt,” contains some sugar (about nine to 12 grams per cup), which means it’s probably not the best choice for a very low-carb diet. But full-fat goat’s cheese contains much less sugar and carbs, only about a gram. During the fermentation process when cheese is made, the bacteria in the milk “eat” the sugar, resulting in much fewer carbs and sugar left over. To keep carbs to a minimum, avoid eating any processed cheeses, flavored cheeses (such as those blended with honey or fruit) and always get grass-fed, full-fat cheese.
2. Good Source of Protein and Calcium
Like other dairy products, goat’s milk and goat cheese are great sources of calcium, which can be hard to get enough of if someone doesn’t eat many green veggies, nuts or much seafood. Having a serving or two of high-quality dairy products per day, which can include goat cheese and other raw cheeses, can provide about 10 percent to 30 percent of your daily calcium needs depending on the specific kind.
Calcium is an essential mineral for helping build bones, maintaining a strong skeletal system, supporting dental health and more. Emerging research even shows that consuming more calcium from your diet in combination with vitamin D (from both sunlight and food sources) may have the ability to regulate glucose metabolism and help protect against cancer, diabetes and heart disease. (6) Calcium also helps balance levels of other minerals, including magnesium, phosphorus and potassium. These minerals work together to maintain balance of bodily fluids and regulate heart rhythms, nerve and muscle function, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels.
A serving of goat cheese (one ounce) also provides about five to six grams of protein, making it a good addition to salads, roasted veggies and other low-protein sides. Studies have found that goat cheeses tend to be a bit lower in protein than cow’s milk cheeses because they experience greater rates of protein degradation during the cheese-making process.
3. Supplies Probiotics (Beneficial Bacteria)
Probiotics can both grow naturally in fermented foods or be added by manufacturers to increase their concentration. It’s now common for cheese makers to add probiotic bacteria strains to cheese, just like they do with yogurt, because cheese turns out to be a good carrier for these microbes. Due to the fermentation process that cheeses undergo while they’re curing, aged/raw goat cheese (and other raw cheeses made from raw cow’s or sheep’s milk) are often high in probiotics, including thermophillus, bifudus, bulgaricus and acidophilus. The benefits associated with eating probiotic foods include improving gut health, enhancing immunity, and helping reduce allergies and inflammatory reactions. (7)
The concentration of probiotics within different types of cheeses depends on factors like the amount of starter that’s used, the concentration of salt, the addition of a protein hydrolysate and the ripening time. Certain studies have found that these variables all affect the “microbiological, biochemical, and sensory properties of the cheese.” (8) The amount of probiotics available from goat cheese can be optimized by the addition B. lactis and L. acidophilus, salt, and ripening for 70 days or more.
Aged, raw cheeses are more likely to be have higher probiotic concentrations because they are not exposed to high heat that kills beneficial (and harmful) bacteria. Goat cheese that contains probiotics may taste more acidic and tart (similar to goat’s milk yogurt or kefir) due to containing L. acidophilus or B. lactis. (9)
4. Provides B Vitamins, Copper and Phosphorus
Along with protein and fat, goat’s cheese also provides phosphorus, copper, B vitamins like vitamin B6 and some iron. The combination of protein, calcium and iron may help support bone formation and help with absorption of certain minerals.
You can get about 10 percent to 20 percent of your daily copper (depending on the specific type of cheese) from having just one ounce of goat cheese. Getting enough copper is important for maintaining high energy levels because copper acts as a catalyst in the reduction of molecular oxygen to water, which is the chemical reaction that takes place when ATP is synthesized (the fuel that provides bodily energy). Copper is the third most prevalent mineral in the body and plays a role in skeletal health, hormone production, and the production of hemoglobin and red blood cell.
Phosphorus is the second most abundant element in the human body. Phosphorus benefits include supporting your metabolism, synthesizing the major macronutrients from your diet (proteins, fats and carbohydrates) and controlling muscle contractions.
5. May Be Easier to Digest
For people with sensitivities to dairy, why is goat cheese better than regular cheese? Goat milk can be a good choice for some people who can’t digest cow’s milk because its chemical structure is slightly different. Some experts even believe that goat cheese can be safely consumed by people who are allergic to cow’s milk. One reason is because goat’s milk is lower in lactose (milk sugars) than cow milk, and the presence of lactose is a major reason why some people cannot digest dairy very well.
To understand another reason why goat cheese is easier on digestion than cow’s milk cheese we need to go back thousands of years. Milk from cows, sheep and goats contain specific types of protein, one of which is called casein. In many cases, when people are intolerant of cow milk they are actually sensitive to A1 casein, a type of protein found milk produced by the majority of dairy cows in the U.S., Western Europe and Australia. (10) Intolerance to A1 casein can contribute to problems such as gastrointestinal distress, irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s, leaky gut, acne and eczema. (11, 12)
Goat milk contains A2 casein, which is less inflammatory and less likely to cause an intolerance. In fact, the chemical composition of goat’s milk makes it very close to human breast milk, which is why some mothers have traditionally weaned their babies by giving them goat’s milk. Recently, the European Food Safety Authority stated that “proteins from goat’s milk can be suitable as a protein source for infant and follow-on formula.” (13)
6. May Help Reduce Hunger and Cravings
Cheese probably doesn’t come to mind when someone mentions dieting and weight loss, but what do the studies say? Is goat cheese good for weight loss? Because goat cheese provides fat and protein, it can be helpful for controlling hunger because it’s satiating.
Another less obvious reason that goat cheese and other full-fat dairy products may be “good for you” is because they taste great and ultimately can makes recipes more enjoyable, which means you might need to eat less to feel satisfied. When you enjoy what you eat you’re less likely to seek out snacks and/or feel deprived, which can lead to a reduced risk for overeating in the long run. Rather than attempting to cut calories by eating low-fat, processed cheeses, many weight loss experts now recommend eating the real thing — full-fat, high-quality cheeses — and simply watching your portion size.
Goat Cheese Nutrition
Studies have found that, depending on how goat cheese is cured and aged, a wide variation exists in terms of the concentrations of nutrients, such as phosphorus, vitamin K, calcium, iron, sodium and zinc. (14) Softer cheeses tend to be lower in calories, fat, protein and most of the minerals mentioned above compared to harder cheeses that have been aged longer.
A one-ounce serving of soft goat cheese has about: (15)
- 75 calories
- 0.2 gram carbohydrates
- 5.2 grams of protein
- 5.9 grams of fat (slightly less than most other cheeses)
- 0.2 milligram copper (10 percent DV)
- 71.7 milligrams phosphorus (7 percent DV)
- 0.1 milligram riboflavin/vitamin B2 (6 percent DV)
- 289 international units vitamin A (6 percent DV)
- 39.2 milligrams calcium (4 percent DV)
- 0.1 milligram vitamin B6 (4 percent DV)
- 0.5 milligram of iron (3 percent DV)
Goat Cheese vs. Cow Cheese vs. Other Cheese
Is goat cheese better for you than other cheese, such as feta or cheddar? Here’s how goat cheese stacks up against other cheeses:
- Goat cheese has less calories, fat and protein than many cheeses made with cow’s milk, such as cheddar, brie or gouda cheese.
- Feta cheese, popular in Greece and parts of the Mediterranean and Middle East, has traditionally been made from goat’s milk (or sometimes sheep’s milk).
- Cheeses made from sheep’s milk — such as Roquefort, manchego, pecorino romano — are other great options. Sheep milk is even higher in many vitamins and minerals than cow’s and goat’s milk, including vitamin B12, vitamin C, folate and magnesium. Compared to goat’s cheese, sheep’s milk cheese is less tangy and usually creamier.
Where to Find and How to Use Goat Cheese
Wondering where to buy goat cheese if you’re concerned about getting the best quality? Check your local farmer’s market for organic goat cheese, or even consider buying organic cheeses online. Depending on how you plan on using goat cheese you might want to try different varieties, including soft, semi-soft, hard, fig, honey, pepper, garlic and herb cheeses.
The best goat cheese brands are those that use organic goat’s milk from grass-fed animals that are not treated with hormones or antibiotics. Although raw cheeses can be harder to find, I recommend buying them whenever possible because they contain more enzymes and beneficial bacteria due to avoiding high-heat pasteurization. Certain studies have found that the quality of cheese affects the actual chemical composition of the cheese. One analysis of 60 different samples of goat cheese found that farm-produced cheese had more dry matter, high protein levels and more fat. Goat cheeses from farms contained higher concentrations of lactoferrin caprine and serum albumin proteins compared to cheeses produced in factories. (16)
What are some of the ways you can use goat cheese? Goat cheese goes well with flavors and foods like honey; dates or figs; turkey or chicken; eggs; beets; herbs like oregano, basil and parsley; black pepper; spinach; arugula; kale; avocado; tomatoes; and eggplant. Popular uses of goat cheese include adding some to salads or omelettes/frittatas, serving goat cheese with roasted beets and balsamic dressing, adding some to sandwiches or collard wraps, and topping veggies with crumbled goat cheese.
Goat Cheese Recipes
Here’s a basic recipe for making soft goat cheese (also called chevre): (17)
- 1 gallon of goat’s milk (I recommend raw, organic goat’s milk that has not been pasteurized)
- 1 packet chevre culture (purchase enough culture to set 1 gallon of milk; look for one that includes culture and rennet for cheese making)
- 2 teaspoons salt
- Spoon or ladle
- Butter muslin or large colander
- Warm the milk to to 68–72 degrees F (20–22°C) in a pot over low heat.
- Add the culture by sprinkling it over the top of the milk. Wait about 2 minutes for the culture to rehydrate, then stir.
- Place a cloth over the pot and let the milk sit in the pot at room temperature for 6–12 hours.
- Once you see that the curd has formed (and there’s a thin layer of whey over the curd mass), drain the whey from the curd using a colander. The curd will drain slowly over about 6 hours or more. The more time you allow for the curd to drain, the drier and tangier the cheese will be. You can slowly keep draining for about 24–36 hours to form a dense cheese. Softer, sweeter cheeses need less time to drain.
- Once the cheese has drained to your preference, add about 1.5–2 teaspoons of salt and any herbs you might like. Store the cheese in the refrigerator in a bowel and use within about 7–10 days.
Below are some ideas for using goat cheese in healthy recipes, whether the cheese is homemade or store-bought:
- Berry Goat Cheese Recipe
- Creamy Goat Cheese and Artichoke Dip Recipe
- Eggplant Wrapped Goat Cheese Recipe
Goat Cheese History and Facts
According to the Original Chevre website, “Authentic, artisanal French chèvre has been passed down between generations of farmers for thousands of years.” With its long history of goat cheese consumption, France continues to be one of the biggest produces of several types of goat’s milk cheeses, commonly called French chèvres (chèvre in French simply means goat). (18)
Geography, geology and climate all dictate the varieties of cheese made from goat’s milk. Milk quality and taste are directly linked to the land, or terroir, where the goats roam. Varieties of goat cheese have been traditionally made in Australia, Greece, China, Italy, Norway, Turkey, U.S., U.K., Netherlands, Ireland and in the Eastern region of the Middle East (where Labneh cheese is often made with goat’s or sheep’s milk). In ancient Greece, goats were considered “legendary animals”; they were raised not only for their meat, but also for their nutrient-dense milk and even their skin.
Goat cheese consumption has risen in the U.S. over the past several decades as goat’s cheese has become known for being healthier than other cheeses. In fact, according to the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center, “in the past decade goat cheese has been one of the fastest growing cheeses in the specialty food product market.” (20) Currently, more than 50 percent of the goat cheese products consumed in the U.S. are imported, mostly from France. The most popular type of goat cheese available in the U.S. is chevre, a fresh, soft cheese similar in texture to cream cheese that is usually sold in logs, often with added flavoring from berries, herbs or nuts.
If you have a known allergy to cow’s milk, or lactose intolerance, incorporate goat cheese into your diet slowly to make sure you don’t have a negative reaction. Even though it’s less allergenic than cow’s milk, it’s still possible to be allergic to goat (or sheep’s) milk products. Consume goat cheese carefully if you’ve ever experienced a histamine response to goat’s milk products. Stop eating goat cheese and other dairy products if you experience symptoms like hives, sweating, diarrhea, abdominal pain or swelling.
Pregnant women are advised not to consume raw cheeses due to the potential for bacterial contamination, so to be safe it’s best to either avoid eating questionable cheeses during pregnancy or to always purchase from a reputable retailer that you trust.
Final Thoughts on Goat Cheese Benefits
- Goat cheese is typically a soft or semi-soft cheese made from goat’s milk that has a tangy taste and smooth texture.
- Benefits of goat cheese include that it provides calcium, healthy fats, probiotics, phosphorus, copper, protein, B vitamins and iron.
- Goat’s cheese is a good alternative to cow’s milk cheeses because it’s lower in lactose, contains type 2 casein protein, is typically easier to digest, and is usually much less allergenic and inflammatory.