The Jakarta Post
A recent study into 15 previous studies of more than 200,000 volunteers has found that the people who ate about 40 grams of cheese a day had the lowest risks of heart disease and stroke. (Shutterstock/-)
Most people would typically consider cheese a guilty pleasure rather than a healthy food.
Cheese contains high levels of saturated fats, which are linked to high cholesterol levels, atherosclerosis, and increased risk of heart disease. It also contains some beneficial components, including calcium, protein and probiotics.
But a new study published in the European Journal of Nutrition suggests that cheese consumption might yield some health benefits.
The study, reported by Time, tapped into secondary data from 15 previous studies involving over 200,000 volunteers to examine the relationship between cheese consumption and its effect on cardiovascular disease. Researchers from China and Netherlands analyzed the results of these studies, of which only one study included people with existing heart disease and only two tracked people for ten or more years.
It was found that people who consumed high levels of cheese had a 14 percent lower risk of developing coronary heart disease and were 10 percent less likely to have a stroke than those who rarely or never ate cheese. Dr. Allan Stewart, director of aortic surgery at Ichan School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City, remarked that the findings were “certainly different from what people might expect”.
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The relationship between cheese consumed and benefits derived was U-shaped, not linear—meaning that higher quantities of cheese were not necessarily better. People who consumed, on average, about 40 grams of cheese a day were found to have the lowest risks of heart disease and stroke. (To put things into perspective, the average American eats about 42.5 grams of cheese per day.) Dr. Stewart says, “this is not the same as eating a big slice of cheesy pizza every day”.
Dr. Stewart points out that much of the data was self-reported, making its reliability questionable because people tend to overstate or understate their consumption of certain foods. He also stresses that the study reveals a correlation, not a cause-and-effect relationship. It is possible that people who eat cheese on a daily basis are healthier overall, or have more disposable income and higher socioeconomic statuses. It could also be that cheese has properties that offset the negative effects of its high saturated fat content. “Cheese can be high in probiotics, which tend to put you in less of an inflammatory state,” he says. Cheese also contains conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), an unsaturated fatty acid that may increase the amount of of HDL (beneficial) cholesterol and decrease (harmful) LDL levels."
“There is some evidence that cheese—as a substitute for milk, for example—may actually have a protective effect on the heart,” says Dr. Stewart. “No one’s saying you should definitely go out and eat 40 grams of cheese a day. But on the upside, a bit of cheese on a cracker doesn’t sound unreasonable.”
It is worth noting that the effects of the different varieties of cheese were not investigated in this study. More research is needed to assess whether some types are more beneficial than others. “We’re always are searching for ways to minimize heart disease and reduce atherosclerosis,” he says. “It’s promising to find that something that actually tastes good—and pairs well with a nice glass of red wine—may offer some protection, as well.” (afr/kes)