Healthful Cheese

Few people doubt specialty cheese is delicious, but some hesitate to consume it because they believe it is “fattening.” Yet our knowledge of nutrition is rapidly evolving, and a new study out of Piacenza, Italy, titled “Blood Pressure Lowering Effect of Dietary Integration with Grana Padano Cheese in Hypertensive Patients,” is just the beginning of our coming to understand ways in which cheese can impact health.

The study was small but the results were powerful:

In this study, we evaluate whether a daily dietary integration with a small amount of Grana Padano cheese effectively reduced blood pressure (BP). In a randomized, open-label, controlled study, 45 hypertensive patients received a daily dose of 30 grams Grana Padano cheese during a period of two months.

The results have been compared with those obtained in a homogeneous control group of 15 hypertensive patients. A dietary manipulation was performed to maintain unchanged calorie, cholesterol, and sodium intake.

Preliminary results indicate the patients who received Grana Padano presented with a statistically significant reduction of systolic and diastolic BP, while no change was detected in the control group.

In conclusion, a moderate intake of mildly seasoned Grana Padano cheese seems to be effective in lowering BP in hypertensive patients.

A lot of what we learned as children about food and nutrition turns out to be incorrect, unqualified or incomplete, and nutrition knowledge keeps evolving. In the middle part of the last century, trans fat gained popularity because there was concern over the association between saturated fat and cardiovascular disease. But it turned out increased trans-fatty acid consumption raises the risk of cardiovascular disease, so in the latter part of the century, the FDA pushed to get trans fats out of the food supply.

This lack of certainty is why so many are turning away from restrictions and focusing instead on eating good quality food. The Mediterranean Diet that was introduced in 1993 by Oldways, the Harvard School of Public Health and the European Office of the World Health Organization exemplifies this best.

This study is good news for Grana Padano and, by extension, Italian hard cheese and, perhaps, most cow-milk-based cheeses. It is also a great reminder that specialty cheese, typically rich and thus consumed in small quantities, can easily find a calorie-neutral place in the diet, and might just contain other health wonders yet unknown.