When you think of healthy foods, what comes to mind? Vegetables, fruit, and lean meats, perhaps? Chances are, cheese probably didn't make the list. Considering the popularity of dairy-rich comfort foods like macaroni and pizza, it's no shock that cheese is often seen as an indulgence. But new research finds that cheese by itself may actually be a lot better for your body than you think.
An October 2018 study published in the British Journal of Nutrition analyzed the dietary habits of 2,000 men, following up with them for an average of 20 years. Researchers divided the men into four groups based on their consumption of fermented dairy products — including cheese, yogurt, and kefir — with less than 3.5 percent fat. Results showed that participants who had the highest consumption of this type of dairy had a 26 percent lower risk of a heart disease event, such as a heart attack. Even the folks who preferred eating higher-fat fermented dairy products had no link to a higher heart disease risk. Researchers say the study suggests that eating these foods may actually help protect you from a heart attack.
While this may seem a bit surprising, this isn't the first time research has indicated the possible health benefits of cheese. In a December 2017 paper published by the European Journal of Nutrition, researchers from China and the Netherlands analyzed data from 15 observational studies, which included more than 200,000 people. They found that those who ate more cheese had a 14 percent lower risk of developing coronary heart disease and were 10 percent less likely to have a stroke than those who rarely or never ate cheese.
Is cheese healthy?
It's tempting to view this new research as a free ticket to eat as much cheese as you please. But keep in mind that eating more cheese doesn't necessarily mean downing huge quantities. (In other words, sorry, but you probably shouldn't finish that entire fondue pot in one sitting.) Instead, the people who were at the lowest risk for heart disease and stroke were those who ate approximately 40 grams per day.
You may know, for instance, that cheese is high in protein, which helps keep you full and maintains strong bones, muscles, and skin. However, it's also high in saturated fat, which can raise the levels of bad cholesterol in the blood. That's definitely not something you want to overdo.
That said, it's encouraging to hear that cheese may pack a surprising health benefit. It just goes to show that a little bit may really go a long way.