Wind the clock back ten years and halloumi was still a niche food choice in the UK. Ask for it in your local supermarket and you’d be greeted with blank looks from nonplussed shop assistants. That was before Nando’s and the popularity of the Mediterranean diet turned us all into cheese connoisseurs. This summer, even your local Maccies will have halloumi available, when it introduces halloumi fries as part of its Taste of Spain and Cyprus menu.
Yes, it’s fair to say, the protein-packed cheese has infiltrated the UK and is now a staple of our diets, but still the question remains: is halloumi healthy? To answer that we consulted three dieticians who gave us the low down on halloumi’s health benefits, its downsides and some potential alternatives. But, for anyone who’s yet to taste halloumi, let’s start at the beginning.
What is halloumi?
“Halloumi is a traditional cheese of Cyprus, which has been produced there for hundreds of years, and is gaining popularity in the UK,” says Sasha Watkins, registered dietitian and co-founder of Field Doctor. “It is made from a mix of goats, sheep or cows’ milk and is firm and chewy in texture. It can be grilled, fried or baked, and when heated becomes squidgy but crispy on the outside.”
Halloumi’s Nutritional Benefits
“On most packs of halloumi,” says Ellie Bain, Gousto’s registered nutritionist and dietician, “the recommended serving size is only 30g (so is the nutritional value), which is good to bear in mind when cooking.”
Because the recommended serving size is 30g, we’ve compiled the nutritional benefits of a 30g serving too. Notice the amount of protein, salt and saturated fat.
- Calories – 94
- Fat – 7.4g
- Saturates – 5.1g (26% of your recommended daily intake)
- Carbohydrates – 0.2g
- Sugars – 0.2g
- Protein – 6.6g
- Salt – 0.9 (15% of your daily recommended intake)
Halloumi’s Health Benefits
From packing a protein punch to helping you fight fatigue, there are loads of reasons to start (or continue) eating halloumi. “Halloumi is high in protein (to help you maintain and grow your lean muscle mass), contains calcium (for healthy bones and teeth), phosphorus (for bone health), zinc (for cognitive, immune and fertility functions), iodine (for thyroid and cognitive function) and vitamin A (to support your immunity, vision and skin),” says Watkins. “It is also a source of several B vitamins – Folic Acid, B12 and B2 – which are known to support psychological function and combat fatigue and selenium, which is important for immune function and helps combat oxidative stress.”
Not to mention, for all the vegetarians out there, halloumi’s firm texture makes it an excellent, and protein-filled, meat substitute.
Reasons Not to Eat Halloumi
While there are no healthy or unhealthy foods, there are certainly some downsides to eating halloumi. You should be especially careful how much of it you’re eating and how you’re cooking it.
“Halloumi is very high in salt, and a portion of 70g contains 2.1g, which is a third of your recommended daily allowance of 6g,” says Watkins. “People with high blood pressure should be especially mindful of their salt intake. It is also high in saturated fat (12g per 70g), which has been linked with ‘bad’ cholesterol levels. It also matters how you prepare the halloumi as adding lots of oil – if frying – will increase the calorie count. I love a small portion grilled and added to a mixed salad of roasted vegetables, quinoa, parsley and lemon juice.”
“It’s usually the form in which people consume halloumi, and the dips they have with it, that can make it a less healthy snack or meal,” adds Tamara Willner, nutritionist for the NHS-backed healthy eating plan Second Nature. “For example, halloumi burgers or halloumi fries are usually deep-fried and served with refined carbohydrates (batter or burger buns). Plus, often sweet chilli sauces or jams are served with halloumi and these contain a lot of sugar.”
How to Cook Halloumi
Halloumi can be grilled, fried or baked, but however you cook it, the preparation process remains the same.
- Start by chopping the halloumi into 5mm–1cm thick slices.
- When frying, place the halloumi into a dry frying pan, placed over a medium heat. Fry for 2–3 minutes, or until the halloumi is golden-brown. Flip and repeat on the other side.
- Alternatively you can brush with a little olive oil and cook in a grill pan or on the BBQ. Your timings will remain the same.
- If baking, pre-heat your oven to 200ºC (180ºC fan) then lay your slices in a single layer in an ovenproof dish. Drizzle with a little olive oil and place in the oven for 10-15 minutes, turning halfway through.
Alternatives to Halloumi
As Willner says, “halloumi can be a part of a healthy diet and it’s important to eat the foods we enjoy so that we don’t feel deprived.” Still, if you’ve had your fill of halloumi and you’d like to mix things up, try giving these alternatives a nibble.
“Feta is another great source of protein and has a very strong flavor, so you might find that you only need a small amount to make your meal more satisfying,” says Willner.
It also has “less than half the salt and saturated fat of the halloumi,” adds Watkins.
Chickpeas, tofu or tempeh
“If you’d like another source of protein that isn’t meat, consider swapping halloumi for chickpeas, tofu, or tempeh,” says Willner.
“Marinated tofu is also a good high-protein substitute if you’re looking for a chewy texture,” adds Watkins.
Reduced-fat or Reduced-salt Halloumi
If you’ve a hankering for halloumi, but it doesn’t fit your macros maybe consider a reduced-fat or reduced-salt version of the cheese. A low-fat alternative will typically reduce fat by around 30%.
“Mozzarella is another great swap,” says Bain. “When melted it becomes deliciously gooey and creamy while also lower in fat and salt, with 18.6g per 100g of protein.”
“If the high number of calories in halloumi is a particular concern, ricotta contains half the calories and is lower in salt,” says Bain. “Although, the flavor is much more subtle.”
Halloumi, Chickpea and Lime Salad
Feeds 2, prep time: 5 mins, cook time: 15 mins
- 507 calories
- 22g protein
- 26g carbohydrates
- 31g fat (13g saturated)
- 100g green beans, trimmed
- 1 lime, zest and juice
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 red chilli, sliced
- 1 red onion, sliced into wedges
- 100g cherry tomatoes
- chopped parsley
- 140g sliced halloumi
- Cook the beans in a pan of boiling water until tender, adding the chickpeas for the final minute of cooking.
- For the dressing, whisk the lime juice and zest with half the oil and the chilli. Drain the chickpeas and beans and toss with the dressing. Pour boiling water over the onion, leave for five minutes to soften, then rinse. Add the rocket, parsley, tomatoes and onion to the bean bowl and mix it altogether.
- At the last minute, fry the halloumi until golden.
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