Whether you're hosting a formal dinner party, a workplace function or casual get-together with your closest gal pals, the classic cheese and cracker tray always makes a perfect starter course. This quick and convenient party favorite can also double as a healthy mid-day snack, if you pay attention to fiber, fat and sodium.
A chunk of cheese and a handful of crackers make an easy snack, but read the food labels carefully to avoid unwanted fat. Approximately 20 to 35 percent of your daily calories should come from fat, which equals 44 to 78 grams for an average 2,000-calorie diet. A snack of seven wheat crackers and 1 1/2 ounces of cheddar cheese provides 235 calories and 16 grams of fat, 25 percent of your daily fat recommendation. Use 1 1/2 ounces of low-fat cheddar cheese for a healthier snack that provides 138 calories and 5 grams of fat.
Fiber is the oddball carbohydrate, because it passes through your body completely undigested. Found naturally in plants, fiber adds bulk to foods, promotes good digestion, prevents constipation, lowers cholesterol and stabilizes blood sugar. You need a total of 25 grams of fiber a day, and whole grains have more fiber than foods made with refined grains. Seven plain wheat crackers provide only 0.5 gram of fiber, but substituting whole-wheat crackers boosts the fiber in your snack to 3 grams.
Calcium and Phosphorous
Like all dairy foods, cheese provides calcium and phosphorus, two minerals that build strong and healthy bones. You need 1,000 milligrams of calcium and 700 milligrams of phosphorus a day. A serving of 1 1/2 ounces of cheddar cheese has 307 milligrams of calcium and 218 milligrams of phosphorus. Low-fat cheese also provides some of these essential minerals. One serving of low-fat cheddar contains 176 milligrams of calcium and 206 milligrams of phosphorus.
A high-salt diet raises blood pressure, and most Americans eat more sodium than they need. The Institute of Medicine recommends consuming less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium a day. One serving of wheat crackers and cheddar cheese contains almost 400 milligrams of sodium, or 17 percent of your daily maximum. Choose low-sodium varieties of cheese and crackers to reduce the sodium in your snack to a modest 36 milligrams.
- USDA Nutrient Database: Crackers, Wheat
- USDA Nutrient Database: Crackers, Whole Wheat
- USDA Nutrient Database: Crackers. Wheat, Low Salt
- USDA Nutrient Database: Cheese, Cheddar
- USDA Nutrient Database: Cheese, Lowfat, Cheddar or Colby
- U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010
- MayoClinic.com: High-fiber Foods
- Office of Dietary Supplements: Calcium
- Medline Plus: Phosphorus in the Diet
- USDA Nutrient Database: Cheese, Low-sodium, Cheddar or Colby
- Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images