Cheese has long been regarded as something to be eaten with some caution, since it’s full of saturated fat and calories. However, in the last 10 years, more carefully done studies are showing that cheese may actually be quite healthy. Another surprise is that full-fat varieties seem to be healthier than the low-fat types.
Cheese and the “French Paradox”
The “French Paradox” describes the finding that while the French eat more fatty cheese and drink more red wine than most any other culture, the rate of cardiovascular disease in France is low; much lower than in the United States.
For some years it was thought that was due to the benefits of red wine. The more recent thinking however is that the Paradox is due to multiple factors. For example, the French eat more fruits and vegetables, less sugar, and fewer snacks (less trans fats).
And many experts now believe the high-fat cheese intake is also an important reason the French have less heart disease. A Danish study just published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition supports this idea.
The researchers divided 139 test subjects into 3 groups. For the next 12 weeks, one group added 80 gm. of hard, regular-fat cheese to their daily diet, and the other group added 80 gm. of low-fat cheese daily. The third group (the “control group”) did not eat any additional cheese.
The volunteers all had their weight and abdominal circumference measured at the beginning of the study and at the end. Also measured were cholesterol, triglycerides, insulin, glucose, and 7 other metabolic measures.
At the end of the study, there was no difference between the 3 groups in their weight, abdominal circumference, or any of the blood tests. Most significant was that the level of “bad” cholesterol (the LDL type) were the same in each group. And the level of good cholesterol (HDL) was actually higher (better) in the group that ate the high fat cheese!
This is not the only study to reach the conclusion that full-fat dairy products are healthier than the low- or no-fat variety. The European Journal of Nutrition just published another study that concluded that people who ate more cheese had a 10-14% lower risk of cardiovascular disease than people who ate little.
Not all saturated fats are the same
Some are good for our bodies (like dairy fat), and other types do us more harm than good (saturated fats in meats). Cheese contains the good fat, along with lots of other valuable nutrients, such as protein, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, along with hard to get vitamins B12 and especially K2.
The best types to eat
The hard, dry, and especially aged types (such as parmesan and cheddar) are especially healthy. The research showing that cheese is healthy was done with this type, and not the soft, non-aged, high moisture cheese bought commonly in Brazil, already sliced. These types are not so healthy.
Try to buy the stronger flavored hard cheeses. These are more expensive, but they are worth looking for. Another thing: don’t waste your money on low- or no-fat cheeses. They cost more and are not as healthy.
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