Can cheese help prevent cardiovascular disease?

Don’t believe the hype: health headlines dissected

THE STORY

Saturated fat is bad for you, then suddenly it’s good for you. We’re used to seeing conflicting health headlines when it comes to what fat does to our health. Cheese, with its high saturated fat content, is often portrayed as a food baddie when it comes to heart health. Results from a new study, however, claim that eating a small amount of cheese could have nutritional advantages.

THE RESEARCH

Researchers at Soochow University, The First Hospital of Hebei Medical University, and Yili Industrial Group, in China, carried out the study. This meta-analysis evaluated 15 previous studies from Europe and the US, which recorded the diet and health outcomes of more than 200,000 people and looked to see if there was a link between the consumption of cheese and cardiovascular disease (CVD).

Researchers identified the studies that quantified how much cheese people ate, as recorded in dietary questionnaires, focussing on those studies that had collected data on CVD, coronary heart disease and strokes.

They then followed up the participants, comparing high and low daily cheese consumption, as reported in the questionnaires, with high consumption considered to be around 40g a day.

THE RESULTS

The research results, published in the European Journal of Nutrition, showed that people who regularly ate cheese were 14% less likely to develop coronary heart disease. In addition, their chances of having a stroke were reduced by 10%, and the risk of any type of cardiovascular disease was reduced by 10%. The beneficial effects were seen in those people who ate, on average, the high amount, approximately equivalent to a matchbox-sized piece.

THE DEAL

On the face of it, the results show that eating cheese every day could protect us from CVD, coronary heart disease and stroke. Some of the reports in the media invited us to ‘indulge’ in a cheese-fest, however, this type of meta-analysis can demonstrate patterns, but can’t show that a single factor has a direct causal effect on another – for example, a reduced chance of stroke.

Three of the study authors worked for the Yili Group, a large producer of dairy goods in China, but declared no conflict of interest.

It was also reported that the positive findings could possibly be linked to healthier people being more likely to eat cheese.

What the press said:

‘Eating cheese every day may actually be good for you’ TIME

‘A piece of cheese a day keeps the doctor away’ Daily Mail

‘Eating cheese every day may help to protect heart health’ Medical News Today