Cheese May Lower Your Cholesterol Levels

Love cheese but worry about the health risks of eating too much? Worry no more. Wiki Commons

In the ever-changing world of nutrition news, another common edict has apparently been reversed. According to a new study, certain kinds of saturated fats might not only be okay to eat, they might actually lower your cholesterol levels, reports Business Insider.

And the kinds of good saturated fats that the study focused on are the best kinds: cheeses. Yes, it turns out that you might soon be able to bite into a block of cheese and be guilt-free.

Doctors and nutritionists have long cautioned against heavy consumption of saturated fats because of their well-established link to heart disease. In general, avoiding foods heavy in saturated fat is probably a good rule. But studies are beginning to show that not all saturated fats are created equal; it depends on the form that saturated fat takes.

It turns out that our bodies process saturated fat differently when it's consumed as part of a so-called "cheese matrix," which is essentially the specific way that nutrients like protein and calcium are arranged inside the delectable blocks. Specifically, researchers found a special relationship between consuming full-fat cheeses (as opposed to more processed, reduced fat ones) and lower cholesterol levels.

"I suppose the 'cheese matrix' does make it sound very mystical," said lead study author Emma Feeney. "It's really not; it's just a fancy word for the overall structure."

The study looked at 164 overweight Irish adults and found that the ones which ate blocks of full-fat Irish cheddar cheese (up to 120 grams a day!) while limiting other dairy intake to just two ounces of milk per day, didn't gain weight and lowered both their total cholesterol and levels of so-called "bad" LDL cholesterol.

"We need to stop thinking about foods in terms of their fat and their saturated fat content, and thinking about them as a whole food," said Feeney.

In other words, the real evil seems to be processed foods, which strip nutrients and also structure from the products we consume.

That said, it's important to remember that this was just a single study, and despite its nuance, it doesn't immediately counteract the many studies that have firmly established a link between saturated fats and heart disease. Caution is in order before taking this as license to begin a saturated fat-based diet, especially if you have high cholesterol levels. Moderation, as always, is likely the safest approach.

"We would not recommend that people go off and eat 120 grams of cheese every day," said Feeney. But "a piece of cheese, the recommended portions of cheese, are not going to do you any harm."