Alexander Woolcott was among the most quoted men of his time and a member, along with Dorothy Parker, of the famed Algonquin Round Table in New York City. Among his witticisms: “Everything I like is illegal, immoral or fattening.”
It does sometimes feel that way — especially the fattening part — but it may not be quite true, especially when it comes to specialty cheese.
Although cheese is by its nature a high-fat food, we have long known its very richness can serve the cause of weight loss or maintenance. The reason is that although calories in/calories out is a truism, the more interesting question is what makes people consume far more calories than they burn up. The answer often is that the food we eat is not satisfying, so we keep eating.
In contrast, a food rich in flavor and mouthfeel, such as specialty cheese, satiates and so leads us to eat less.
There has been a substantial indication that certain diets rich in specialty cheeses can promote good health. It is no secret that certain populations, such as the French and the Greeks, have a relatively low incidence of coronary artery disease — despite diets rich in specialty cheese and saturated fat. Among scientists, this is often referred to as the French Paradox.
Although we don’t have a perfect understanding of this phenomenon, experts believe consuming reasonable amounts of alcoholic beverages, especially red wine, dark beer, and champagne, which are generally rich in flavonoids, have heart-protecting effects. So it seems not only that fine cheese need not be unhealthy but also that we may well be obliged to drink some wine along with our cheese. It is a joyous requirement and reminds me of Ben Franklin’s take on wine: “Behold the rain which descends from heaven upon our vineyards. There it enters the roots of the vines, to be changed into wine, a constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy.”
A new study, done by researchers at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark and published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, indicates all saturated fats are not created equal. It turns out that consuming a large amount of cheese lowers LDL cholesterol — the bad kind — when compared to consuming butter with an equal amount of fat. In addition, increasing consumption of cheese did not increase LDL cholesterol when compared to each participant’s normal diet.
Of course, as Aristotle taught, moderation in all things is desirable. Still, the idea that we can savor specialty cheese and sip some hearty red wine while not worrying very much about our health is a consummation devoutly to be wished.