Could Eating Cheese Cut Your Cholesterol And Dementia Risk?
For years, cheese lovers have faced a conundrum: surrender to the creamy temptation and risk heart health, or resist and potentially miss out on its delicious benefits.
Traditional wisdom has often placed cheese in the "guilty pleasure" category due to its saturated fat content, linking it to increased cholesterol levels and heart disease risk.
However, recent scientific revelations are challenging this narrative, suggesting that cheese, in all its flavourful varieties, might actually harbour a host of health benefits, including a protective effect on the brain and heart.
The Cheese-Brain Connection: A Closer Look
A groundbreaking study published in the journal "Nutrients" has illuminated a fascinating link between regular cheese consumption and enhanced brain health in older adults.
This research, conducted on over 1,500 individuals aged 65 and above, revealed that those who indulged in cheese regularly displayed superior cognitive performance and a reduced risk of dementia compared to non-consumers.
The secret may lie in the unique composition of cheese, rich in beneficial probiotics, anti-inflammatory molecules, and essential nutrients. For
instance, Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG, a probiotic found in dairy products like parmesan, has been shown to improve memory and brain function, particularly in individuals with mild cognitive impairment.
Full of Probiotics
These probiotics may exert their positive effects by influencing the gut microbiome, which is intricately connected to brain health through the gut-brain axis.
Professor James Goodwin, an expert in the physiology of ageing, emphasises the importance of a healthy gut for a healthy brain. The diverse 'good' bacteria in cheese and other dairy products contribute to a robust microbiome, with unpasteurised cheeses offering an even richer bacterial diversity.
Additionally, cheese contains oleamide and dehydroergosterol, anti-inflammatory molecules with significant brain benefits.
Rethinking Cheese and Heart Health
The health revelations about cheese extend beyond the brain. Despite the long-standing belief that the saturated fats in cheese elevate LDL ("bad") cholesterol, recent research contradicts this view.
A study led by Dr Emma Feeney from University College Dublin demonstrated that consuming full-fat cheese could actually reduce overall and LDL cholesterol levels, outperforming other forms of dairy fat intake.
This cholesterol-lowering effect might be attributed to cheese's unique matrix, where fatty acids bind with calcium, impeding their absorption into the bloodstream. Dr Feeney's research also suggests that higher calcium cheeses, like cheddar and parmesan, are particularly effective in reducing LDL cholesterol, potentially due to their influence on fat absorption.
Moreover, components in cheese known as sphingolipids may hinder cholesterol uptake from the gut, providing another layer of cardiovascular protection. Dr Oliver Guttmann, a consultant cardiologist, posits that cheese delivers a plethora of beneficial nutrients while possibly inhibiting the absorption of its less healthy elements.
Cheese and Type 2 Diabetes: An Unexpected Ally
The health perks of cheese may also extend to protecting against type 2 diabetes. Contrary to other saturated fats, those from dairy appear to have a unique advantage.
Dr Frankie Phillips of the British Dietetic Association notes that dairy's odd-chain fatty acids, C15 and C17, are associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes. This association was highlighted in the EPIC-InterAct study, which examined the diets of approximately 19,000 Europeans.
Douglas Twenefour from Diabetes UK confirms that cheese, which doesn't spike blood sugar levels, is a recommended food for individuals with diabetes or those at risk.
Practical Implications: How Much Cheese?
While the research is promising, moderation remains key. Dr Feeney suggests that consuming more than 30g of cheese daily won't harm heart health and might even be beneficial, especially for those with higher cholesterol levels.
However, Dr Guttmann advises caution due to cheese's high salt content and calorie density, recommending no more than 30-40g a day to maintain its health benefits.
In line with these emerging research findings, guidance from the NHS also acknowledges the place of cheese in a balanced diet:
Cheese as a good source of essential nutrients like calcium, protein, and vitamins A and B12. However, they advise opting for lower-fat varieties where possible and being mindful of portion sizes due to cheese's high content of saturated fat and salt. A standard portion of cheese is about 30g (roughly the size of a small matchbox)
The emerging research on cheese's health benefits is indeed a cause for celebration among cheese aficionados.
Not only does it appear to safeguard brain function, but it also shows promise in protecting heart health and potentially reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes. However, as with all good things, moderation is crucial.
So, the next time you savour a slice of your favourite cheese, you can relish not just its taste but also its contributions to your well-being, and opt for high-calcium varieties like cheddar or parmesan for maximum health benefits.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
1. How much cheese is recommended per day for health benefits?
While research suggests cheese can be beneficial, moderation is key. Around 30-40g (about the size of a matchbox) is a good daily portion to aim for.
2. Can eating cheese affect my cholesterol levels?
Recent studies indicate that cheese, particularly high-calcium varieties, might actually help reduce LDL ("bad") cholesterol levels, contrary to previous beliefs.
3. Is cheese consumption safe for individuals with diabetes?
Yes, cheese does not spike blood sugar levels and is a recommended part of the diet for those with diabetes or at risk of the condition.
4. What types of cheese are considered high in calcium?
Mature, hard, white cheeses like cheddar and parmesan are typically higher in calcium.
This article is for general information only and is not intended to treat or diagnose medical conditions. If in doubt please check with your GP first.
 Inverse Association between Cheese Consumption and Lower Cognitive Function in Japanese Community-Dwelling Older Adults Based on a Cross-Sectional Study." Nutrients 2023, 15(14), 3181.
 Feeney Emma L. et al. Dairy matrix effects: response to consumption of dairy fat differs when eaten within the cheese matrix—a randomized controlled trial. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition October 2018,
 The amount and type of dairy product intake and incident type 2 diabetes: results from the EPIC-InterAct Study American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2012 Aug.
 NHS: "The Eatwell Guide" (for balanced dietary guidelines)
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