Not many of us can resist a hot, gooey Cheddar toastie. Or a pizza topped with stringy, bubbling mozzarella. For others, a hefty wedge of creamy brie is all it takes to go weak at the knees. Hard cheese, soft cheese, and everything in between—there's a cheese for everyone. The catch? Whichever cheese you choose to slather on cream crackers, sandwich in between doorstep bread slices, or stir into macaroni is high in saturated fat and salt (and no, shoving a few lettuce leaves under half a block of feta doesn't help).
Currently, the NHS states that consuming too much dairy, and therefore saturated fat, can lead to "raised levels of cholesterol in the blood, and […] increased risk of a heart attack or stroke." But a new study from researchers at the University of Reading runs counter to these dietary guidelines—which could be good news for those who are fond of fromage.
The research, published today in the European Journal of Epidemiology, found that a diet high in dairy is not linked to an increased risk of heart disease or stroke. In fact, snacking on Stilton or binging on burrata could actually be good for you.
Scientists from Reading's Hugh Sinclair Unit of Human Nutrition and Institute for Food, Nutrition, and Health carried out an analysis of 29 studies—representing almost a million participants—that explored the link between dairy consumption and cardiovascular diseases. The report concluded that "no associations were found for total (high-fat/low-fat) dairy, and milk with the health outcomes of mortality, CHD [coronary heart disease] or CVD [cardiovascular disease]."
MUNCHIES reached out Ian Givens, a food chain nutrition professor at Reading and one of the study's authors, to find out why the findings contradict the previously held belief that eating too much dairy increases risk of heart disease.
Givens told us via email: "I think dairy has been linked to heart disease in the past mainly because dairy foods are major dietary contributors of saturated fats. Our analysis agreed with most earlier [studies] that there was no association (it's important to remember these studies are of association, not cause and effect) between consumption of milk, cheese, and yogurt (we did not look at butter) and increased risk of cardiovascular diseases."
In addition to finding no link between dairy and a dodgy ticker, the researchers suggest that cheese could even be beneficial for heart health.
Givens continued: "We now know that milk proteins can have a blood pressure lowering effect and that some hard cheese […] reduces the amount of fat that is digested and absorbed."
A cheese toastie a day to keep the doctor away? We'll take that.