Researchers suggest that eating a small amount of cheese every day may benefit heart health.
These new findings come from an analysis of 15 observational studies that looked at the effects of cheese intake on the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD).
Study co-author Li-Qiang Qin — who works in the Department of Nutrition and Food Hygiene at Soochow University's School of Public Health in China — and colleagues report their results in the European Journal of Nutrition.
Cheese is undoubtedly one of our favorite foods. In 2015, the population of the United States consumed the equivalent of 37.1 pounds of cheese per person, with Cheddar and mozzarella being the most popular choices.
While cheese contains some nutrients that are beneficial to health — such as calcium, zinc, and vitamins A and B-12 — it is also high in saturated fats, which can increase cholesterol levels and raise the risk of heart disease and stroke.
The new study, however, suggests that this popular dairy product could have the opposite effect on cardiovascular health.
CVD risk reduced by up to 18 percent
For their study, Qin and colleagues conducted a meta-analysis of 15 observational studies that investigated how cheese consumption influenced the total risk of CVD, as well as the risks of coronary heart disease (CHD) and stroke.
In total, the studies included more than 200,000 participants, and the effects of cheese intake were monitored for more than 10 years. The majority of studies included subjects who were free of CVD at study baseline.
The analysis revealed that people who regularly consumed cheese were up to 18 percent less likely to develop CVD, up to 14 percent less likely to develop CHD, and up to 10 percent less likely to have a stroke, compared with those who had a low cheese intake.
The scientists report that these effects were strongest among participants who consumed around 40 grams, or 1.41 ounces, of cheese every day. In conclusion, they write:
"This meta-analysis of prospective studies suggests a nonlinear inverse association between cheese consumption and risk of CVD."
The team's findings build on those of a widely publicized observational analysis that was published earlier this year, which linked cheese and other dairy products to a reduced risk of cardiovascular and all-cause mortality.
But don't stock up on the Cheddar just yet; both studies have their own limitations. Importantly, they are observational, so they do not prove a causal association between cheese intake and better cardiovascular health.
What is more, both studies have links to the dairy industry; the earlier study received funding from the Global Dairy Platform, Dairy Research Institute, and Dairy Australia, while the latest study was conducted with the help researchers from the Yili Group, a dairy company based in China.
However, it is hard to conclude whether these associations had any influence on the study results.
Until additional studies confirm such findings, it is important to remember that cheese is high in saturated fats, which can be harmful to heart health in high amounts.