This result was identified in comparison with groups that ate either half-fat cheese or butter with added protein and calcium. All groups consumed the same amount of fat. The study has been published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
The aim of the study was to test the effect of dairy fat eaten in different forms. During the trial, 127 participants with elevated cholesterol were given (a) full fat cheddar cheese (which naturally includes protein and calcium), (b) reduced fat cheddar cheese plus butter – to make up to the same amount of fat found in full fat cheddar cheese (group a), or (c) butter plus separate sources of protein and calcium in equivalent amounts to that found in cheddar cheese.
Group (a) had a significantly greater drop (-0.52 mmol/L (0.6 SD)) in total cholesterol compared to group (c) (-0.15 mmol/L (0.64 SD)), with group (b) falling in between the two groups (-0.36 mmol/L (0.55 SD)).
The study suggests the effect of cheese on cholesterol is greater when all of the fat is consumed in the form of full fat cheddar cheese. The researchers say this is likely due to an additive effect of the nutrients contained within the structure of the cheese over and above that seen when the nutrients are consumed separately.
Since cheese is high in saturated fat, the consumption of it has been a target for reduction in those with cholesterol concerns. Typically, when diagnosed with high LDLcholesterol, an individual is often told to reduce their consumption of foods rich in saturated fat, such as cheese.
Dr Emma Feeney, Principal scientist conducting the study, said, “This is an exciting result that demonstrates the importance of what has become to be known as the ‘food matrix’ whereby you consider the food source of nutrients (the ‘matrix’) rather than simply nutrients alone. Our next steps in this area are to explore the ideal amounts of cheese required to generate these results.”
FHI’s CEO, Jens Bleiel said, “This is a great result for cheese as a healthy food product. It has potential to impact public health and food based recommendations in the future. It offers the opportunity to bring back cheese on the menu for those who were told not to eat cheese due to their elevated cholesterol levels.
“FHI will continue to do research to understand the health benefits of dairy ingredients and other dairy products for public health and well-being.”