The Skinny On Cheese

Fall 2016 – High-fat Cheese: the Secret to a Healthy Life? — The Telegraph

High-Fat Cheese May Benefit Health By Boosting ‘Good’ Cholesterol, Study Suggests — Huffington Post

These headlines and thousands more have been motivated by new research, as The Telegraph explains: A diet rich in cheese might actually be good for our health, according to a new study.

A group of researchers from the University of Copenhagen found eating cheese could improve health by increasing levels of “good” high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol — which is thought to offer protection against cardiovascular and metabolic diseases.

The researchers conducted a 12-week test with 139 adults to discover how full-fat cheese can affect our bodies. They split the subjects into three groups. The first group was told to eat 80g of regular high-fat cheese every day, the second group ate 80g of reduced-fat cheese, while the third group didn’t eat cheese but ate 90g of bread and jam instead.

The researchers report, in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, that while none of the groups experienced a change in the levels of “bad” low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol — which is thought to be counterproductive to good heart health — those who ate the high-fat cheese saw a hike in their levels of  “good”  HDL cholesterol.

This research must be duplicated on a larger scale, in many places with many researchers, before we start issuing health recommendations. Still, as The Telegraph points out, this study is not the only research leaning in this direction: A recent Japanese study found cheese prevents fat accumulation in the liver and has the potential to improve serum lipid parameters. Meanwhile, a small 2015 study found cheese could be key to a faster metabolism and reduced obesity. The article also reports there may be useful properties in various cheese types: In 2012, research suggested it was specifically Roquefort cheese that helped to guard against cardiovascular disease.

What all these studies and many others point to is that the urging of low-fat diets and, specifically, consumption of low-fat dairy products are not really well-tested recommendations. It is, indeed, as much a prejudice as it is an established health fact.

Nutrition experts praise diets such as the Mediterranean diet, which is rich in fat including olive oil, fatty fish, and full-fat cheeses. And here is a secret: Lots of research, including a piece published in The Lancet this past summer, now indicate a high-fat Mediterranean diet is often more effective at helping people lose weight than following a low-fat diet.

So when you face your market’s cheese selection, there is a lot of science to back you up if you decide to buy what you like and not worry about “rules” that we don’t really have evidence to back up.