When you think of cheese, you probably think of rich, unhealthy food: pizza, nachos, and lasagna. But cheese isn’t all bad. In fact, when eaten in moderation, cheese can help you build strong bones and cut back on calories.

The good news: Health benefits of cheese

As a dairy product, cheese contains many of the building blocks of healthy bones and muscles. It’s high in calcium, protein, vitamin A, vitamin B12, riboflavin, zinc and phosphorus. Studies show the fat in dairy helps fight against Type 2 diabetes. Stinky cheese, specifically Roquefort, has anti-inflammatory properties.

Some doctors claim the protein and fat in cheese fill you up and prevent hunger, leading to less calorie consumption later on. Cheese made from organic dairy, coming from grass-fed cows, is also rich in omega-3 fatty acids.

The bad news: drawbacks of cheese

But there’s a downside. Cheese is loaded with calories, fat, and sodium. Although full-fat cheese contains conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a fatty acid that fights cancer, you’d have to eat a lot to get any benefit. And studies have shown that a diet high in animal proteins, such as cheese and meat, raises the risk of cancer overall.

The takeaway: Choose wisely and eat in moderation

So how do you get the benefits of cheese without all the problems? Don’t eat a lot of it and recognize that not all cheeses are the same. There are 115 calories in one ounce of cheddar cheese but only 75 calories in an ounce of feta. Mozzarella has 10 fewer calories per ounce than Brie and only 6.3 grams of fat compared to Brie’s 7.9 grams.

Hard cheese tends to have more salt than softer cheese. Swiss is the lowest when it comes to sodium, and you can reduce feta’s salt content by soaking it in fresh water and rinsing it before eating. Feta comes packed in salt water from the grocery store, so a rinse can go a long way in cutting down the salt.

It comes down to what you are looking for — Swiss may be low on the salt scale, but it’s high in calories. So take your doctor’s advice when choosing what kind of cheese to put on top of your salad.

Bonus tip: Use bold flavors

If you find the taste and richness of cheese hard to resist like I do, here’s a tip: choose cheese with a strong flavor, so you need less. A few shavings or crumbles of Parmesan, feta, and blue cheese can go a long way toward satisfying your need for cheese while still keeping you in step with your health goals.

What cheese do you love?