Have researchers found the secret behind the 'French paradox'?
Leave it to the French to have their own alluring mystery when it comes to food and health. While the "French paradox" may sound more like an esoteric romance spy thriller of Parisian cinema, it refers to something a bit more mundane – why do the French have such low rates of coronary heart disease despite a diet high in saturated fats? Tres unfair.
Most theories have focused on wine and the French way of life as the reasons behind this enviable enigma, but a new study by Danish researchers published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry suggests that cheese may play a role as well.
Hanne Bertram and his team note that recent research has shed light on the potentially salubrious effects that some dairy products may impart – as it turns out, not all saturated fats are necessarily evil. For example, one study found that cheese reduced "bad" cholesterol when compared to butter with the same fat content, suggesting that high cheese consumption could help explain the French paradox, according to a statement for the study. To further investigate this theory, Bertram and his colleagues looked into how cheese gets digested.
Comparing urine and fecal samples from 15 healthy men whose diets included either cheese or milk – or who ate a control diet with butter and no other dairy products – they discovered that those who ate cheese had higher levels of butyrate. This is a compound produced by gut bacteria, and higher levels of it are associated with a reduction in cholesterol. While it is a small study, the results suggest, say the team, that the role of gut microbes may help to confirm the connection between cheese and the French paradox. French cheese for a healthy heart? Quite frankly, given what we’ve been taught about saturated fats all this time, the notion seems more paradoxical than ever. But science is nothing if not fickle ... and with that in mind, pass the cheese, s'il vous plaît.