Lactose-intolerant has become a kind of craze recently. Even if you aren’t technically intolerant to lactose, chances are you avoid eating too much cheese or dairy products. Non-fat yogurts, unbuttered veggies, and a slew of other dairy/fat-less foods filled with chemicals with unpronounceable names taking the place of good old fat and butter. What was that? Did I just say good old fat and butter? Yes. Believe it or not a nice chunk of cheese is actually good for your heart! According to a new research study conducted in the UK by Dr. Ivan Petyaev and his team, previously unknown properties of cheese have been discovered and linked to positive cardiovascular health.
The study has helped explain a phenomenon that has confounded scientists for decades. It is known as the French paradox. People in France have remarkably low rates of cardiovascular disease despite the fact that their diets are comprised of 40% saturated fats that come from their high in butter and cheese food. Many have attributed the fact that the French have the third-lowest rate of cardiovascular mortality rate in the world to the fact that they drink a lot of red wine, which contains the antioxidant resveratrol. But many countries consume high amounts of red wine and their cardiovascular health cannot even compare to that of the French people.
Therefore, researchers set out to explain the French paradox. Cheese consumption in France is among the highest in the world, so they decided to take a close look at cheese. They conducted a clinical trial that directly examined how cheese consumption affects people and their discoveries were astounding.
Inflammation. A complex enzymatic transformation that occurs as cheese ripens leads to the formation of substances known to reduce inflammatory markers such as C-reactive protein. This is extremely important, because high levels of inflammation are closely associated with cardiac and other vascular diseases.
Blood pressure. Cheese contains compounds capable of inhibiting the angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) that controls blood pressure. The effects could be similar to ACE inhibitor medications used to control hypertension.
Cholesterol and bacteria. Cheeses with mold (such as Roquefort) may be particularly advantageous to cardiovascular health. When these cheeses are ripened through fermentation with fungi such as Penicillium roqueforti, they form substances that combat bacteria. What do these bacteria have to do with heart disease? Well, in more than half of adults, bacteria acting as “parasites” in the liver and blood vessels are responsible for increases in cholesterol synthesis.
Nutrient status. Cheese also provides numerous nutrients that the body needs for overall good health—including heart health—such as protein, calcium and vitamins A, D, B-6 and B-9.
Which Type of Cheese is Best?
The research team analyzed an extensive amount of different types of cheeses to find out which had the best health benefits. They tested eight white fungi-fermented cheeses from three countries, seven bacteria-fermented cheeses from five countries, and two processed “cheeses” from two countries. Most were made from cow’s milk, but some were made from ewe’s milk or goat’s milk.
Based on the researchers’ results, some cheeses rate as more heart-healthy than others. Here are the ones that top the list.
Blue-veined cheeses such as Roquefort, Danish Blue, Gorgonzola, and mature Stilton.
White fungi-fermented cheeses such as Camembert (from cow’s or goat’s milk) and mature Brie.
Bacteria-fermented cheeses such as mature Cheddar, mature Emmental, which is similar to Swiss and made with two types of bacteria to produce the characteristic holes, and Ossau-Iraty, a ewe’s milk cheese with a toasted-wheat aroma and nutty, grassy-sweet flavor.
Needless to say, processed cheeses such as American cheese did not make the list. Those processed packaged cheeses so abundant in the U.S. have no heart-healthy benefits whatsoever.
How Much to Eat?
Dr. Petyaev recommends aiming for a total of 15 to 25 grams (about one-half to one ounce) per day, choosing from the selections above. To keep the calorie count under control, don’t go pairing cheese with bread or crackers. Instead, place slivers of cheese on slices of fruits or vegetables, or sprinkle cheese over a chopped-veggie salad. Oh and if you like your cheese melted, go ahead—melting it will not diminish its beneficial properties.