"Eating a small portion of cheese every day may reduce your chance of developing heart disease or stroke," reports The Independent.
Chinese researchers reviewed previous studies and found a modest reduction in the risk of cardiovascular diseases, such as heart disease, heart attacks and strokes, of around 10% among people who ate cheese.
They said that the greatest reduction in risk came from a daily serving of about 40 g (1.4 ounces), and that risk began to increase again when people ate larger amounts.
The study was based on 15 previous observational studies, conducted mainly in Europe and the USA. UU., That badyzed the diet and health of more than 34,000 people. Due to the type of study, it is difficult to prove that the cheese directly caused the reduction of the risk of heart attack or stroke. The link may be influenced by other health and lifestyle factors, such as exercise.
People are sometimes advised to avoid cheese because some types have a high content of saturated fats and a high consumption of saturated fats is related to cardiovascular diseases. This study adds to previous research that suggests that a modest amount of cheese may actually have nutritional benefits that balance fat content.
It is important to note that even this study found no benefit in eating more than about 40 g of cheese per day, approximately one piece the size of a matchbox.
Low-fat cheeses (containing 17.5 g of fat per 100 g, or less) may be the healthiest choice for a "daily serving."
Read more tips on healthy eating about dairy products.
Where did the story come from?
The study was carried out by researchers from Soochow University, the First Hospital of the Hebei Medical University and the Yili Industrial Group in China. The Yili group is a large producer of dairy products in China, although it does not seem to produce cheese.
The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest, although three of them work for Yili Industrial Group. The document does not include information about the funds for the investigation. It was published in the peer-reviewed European Journal of Nutrition.
The Independent and The Mail Online greeted the study with enthusiasm, and The Independent suggested that it gives people permission to enjoy a "festive cheese board" at Christmas. However, "please" can be a step too far, since most people were "removed" to have a cheese board with only 40 g of cheese.
What kind of research was this?
The study is a meta-badysis of prospective observational studies that badyze how the consumption of cheese was related to general cardiovascular disease or to specific events such as stroke.
A meta-badysis gathers data from different studies to obtain a global result. Observational studies can highlight patterns, but can not show that one factor (such as cheese consumption) directly causes another (such as a lower chance of a heart attack or stroke).
Dietary trials would be needed to show this, although they are notoriously difficult to organize in a real-world setting. It can be difficult to recruit enough people and ensure that they follow an established dietary intake for long enough to badyze long-term health outcomes.
What did the investigation imply?
Researchers searched for studies that measured people's consumption of cheese through dietary questionnaires, then followed them to see what happened to them. They focused on the studies that collected data on coronary heart disease, cardiovascular disease and stroke.
For each of these results, they compared the reported daily consumption of "high" versus "low" cheese, where "high" was around 40 g per day. Then they badyzed the effects of cheese consumption by quantity (grams per day). They gathered the results and presented them as relative risk figures, although the figures per gram were presented only by graph.
The quality of the studies was evaluated and the publication bias was investigated (where studies with positive findings are more likely to be published).
What were the basic results?
People who regularly eat "high" amounts compared to "low" cheese were less likely to have any type of cardiovascular disease, heart disease or stroke:
- risk of any type of cardiovascular disease was reduced in 10% (relative risk (RR) 0.90, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.82 to 0.99)
- the risk of heart disease was reduced by 14% (RR 0.86; 95%: 0.77 to 0.96)  the risk of stroke was reduced by 10% (RR 0.90, 95% CI 0.84 to 0.97)
The results suggest that eating less than 40 g per day and eating more than 40 g per day would hypothetically increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, compared to eating 40 g per day.
The badysis found some evidence of publication bias, suggesting that smaller trials that had a negative result (found an increased risk of cardiovascular disease with cheese consumption) may not have been published.
How did the researchers interpret the results?
The researchers said: "We found that high consumption of cheese compared to low was significantly badociated with a 10-14% less risk of CVD [cardiovascular disease]." They suggest that this may be because cheese is a good source of vitamins, minerals and proteins in the diet, and the risks of saturated fats may be more relevant to fat in meat than in dairy products.
Cheese is a common part of the diets of many people, and people in Europe consume an average of 17.9 kg per year or 49 g per day.
This study suggests that eating modest amounts of cheese is unlikely to cause damage, and may have a small protective effect on heart health.
However, cheese is rich in fat and calories. It is known that both the fact of being obese and having a diet high in saturated fats are related to cardiovascular disease. So, for health in general, people should limit the amount of saturated fat they eat. In this study, the maximum reduction in the risk of cardiovascular disease was seen by people who eat about 40 g per day, less than the European average. Even then, these relative risk reductions were still quite small.
The study has limitations, mainly that observational studies can not demonstrate that cheese directly affects cardiovascular and cardiovascular health. The researchers say that the individual studies took into account a variety of potentially confusing factors, but there may still be factors that were not taken into account.
In particular, we do not know what the general diets of the participants were like, for example, if people ate other dairy products together with cheese.
Also, when people are asked about their food intake, they may not always calculate their consumption accurately. As most studies were conducted in Europe or the USA. UU., We do not know if the results apply to populations in parts of the world where dairy products are less common.
In general, the study adds to the body of existing research that badyzes whether dairy products and saturated fats are good or bad for us. Dairy products can be a healthy component of your diet, but the best message to take home is all in moderation.
Learn more about dairy products as part of a healthy and balanced diet.