Sometimes we entirely write off foods when we have health concerns. When you have cholesterol worries, you might dismiss cheese out of hand. Some cheeses are high in cholesterol, but some are excellent. New research has shown that cheese may help heart health for people who eat a lot of salt.
Penn State research has found that antioxidants in cheese can lower the damage caused to blood vessels by large amounts of salt. In a study, the scientists saw that adults who ate a high-salt diet had blood vessel dysfunction. But, adding four servings of cheese — without altering their diet — stopped the damage.
“While there’s a big push to reduce dietary sodium, for a lot of people it’s difficult,” said Billie Alba, the study lead who was wrapping up her doctorate at the time. “Possibly being able to incorporate more dairy products, like cheese, could be an alternative strategy to reduce cardiovascular risk and improve vessel health without necessarily reducing total sodium.”
Reducing salt intake can be hard. Prepared food can be high in added salt. And, reduced salt versions can be both more expensive and higher in other undesirable ingredients. Home-cooked meals might not always be possible. While avoiding salt is generally a good habit, when you can’t avoid salt, adding cheese can be beneficial.
“Studies have shown that people who consume the recommended number of dairy servings each day typically have lower blood pressure and better cardiovascular health in general,” Prof. Lacy Alexander said.
The study was small but controlled. People eating the low-salt diet had 1,500 mg a day, whereas people on the high-salt diet had 5,500. There were four variations of the diet: low-sodium, high-cheese diet; low-sodium, no-dairy diet; high-sodium, high-cheese diet; and high-sodium, no-dairy diet. The participants cycled through all four diets in eight-day intervals.
“While the participants were on the high-sodium diet without any cheese, we saw their blood vessel function dip to what you would typically see in someone with pretty advanced cardiovascular risk factors,” said Prof. Alexander. “But when they consumed the same amount of salt, and ate cheese as a source of that salt, those effects were completely avoided.”
All their information led them to believe that the antioxidants in the cheese fortify the vessels. “There is scientific evidence that dairy-based nutrients... have the ability to scavenge these oxidant molecules and thereby protect against their damaging physiological effects,” explained Dr. Alba.
But what about cholesterol? Seventy-five percent of your cholesterol comes from your liver; the other 25 percent comes from diet. While diet isn’t the most significant contributor to cholesterol, it’s still important to watch what you eat. Cheddar cheese has 28 milligrams of cholesterol per ounce; cream cheese has 29. But, low-fat cottage cheese has 1; American cheese has seven. Low-fat versions are much lower in cholesterol than their full-fat counterparts. Click here for a longer list of cheeses and their cholesterol content. It’s good to know that cholesterol levels can be radically different because cheese is an excellent source of protein. It’s essential to do your research, read labels, follow serving sizes and speak to your doctor.
If you stopped eating all cheese to aid healthy cholesterol levels, you should double-check: cheese might be a healthy part of your diet!