The Exoneration of Cheese: Why It May Be Good for Your Heart

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In a small study, researchers found that cheese, often avoided due to its saturated fatty acids, did not increase LDL or total cholesterol levels

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Take heart, cheese lovers! What was once considered off-limits for heart health may have just found redemption.

Danish researchers compared the effect of cheese and butter on heart health parameters and found that cheese did not increase LDL levels, and in fact, lowered them when compared with butter intake of equal fat content.

About 50 people participated in the study. Each person was placed on a controlled diet with an added measure of cheese or butter every day. Both the cheese and the butter were made from cow's milk and equal to 13 percent of each person's daily fat intake. For six weeks each person ate their set amount of cheese or butter, then returned to their normal diet for two weeks, then switched diets for six weeks, so that those who ate butter ate cheese and the cheese eaters ate butter.

Despite the fact that the participants ate more fat than they normally did, those who ate cheese daily had no increase in their LDL or total cholesterol. When eating butter, the same people saw their LDL levels increase by about seven percent on average. While eating cheese, HDL cholesterol dropped some compared to when they were eating butter, but not compared to when eating their normal diets.

Julie Hjerpsted of the Department of Human Nutrition at the University of Copenhagen said that cheese lowers LDL cholesterol when compared to an equal intake of butter, and cheese does not increase LDL cholesterol compared with one's normal diet.

Cheese, an animal food, has long been considered a food to avoid for heart health due to its high content of saturated fatty acids. As to why cheese has what appears to be a beneficial effect on heart health, the researchers speculate that the calcium in cheese may aid in the excretion of fat by the body. Other possible reasons for the exoneration of cheese include the fermentation process used to make cheese or the large amount of protein in cheese, either of which could affect the way cheese is digested.

Though cheese lovers may have a reason to rejoice, this study does not mean that cheese can be eaten in unlimited quantities. As with all things related to food and nutrition, moderation is key.

The study was first published online, ahead of print, in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Image: O.Bellini/Shutterstock.


This article originally appeared on TheDoctorWillSeeYouNow.com, an Atlantic partner site.

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Beth Fontenot is a registered dietitian and a licensed dietitian/nutritionist. She serves on the Louisiana Board of Examiners in Dietetics and Nutrition and writes for TheDoctorWillSeeYouNow.com.

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