If you love nothing more than chowing down on a hunk of cheddar after dinner, we’ve got some good news for you.
People who eat a lot of cheese do not have higher cholesterol levels than those who don’t, according to research carried out at University College Dublin (UCD).
Current health guidelines recommend that eating foods high in saturated fats like cheese can increase your risk of developing high blood cholesterol, which is one of the main risk factors for heart disease and stroke.
The findings of the new study indicate that those who eat large amounts of cheese consume higher amounts of saturated fats. However, the researchers did not find that eating large amounts of cheese led to increased blood cholesterol levels.
The analysis was conducted by academics at Food for Health Ireland, which is hosted at UCD.
Scientists examined the impact of dairy foods – milk, cheese, yoghurt, cream and butter – on markers of body fatness and health in 1,500 Irish people aged between 18 and 90 years of age.
An analysis of individual dairy foods found that cheese consumption was not associated with increased body fat or with LDL cholesterol.
LDL cholesterol is a substance found in blood which helps the body to function properly at healthy levels.
However, when there is too much LDL cholesterol in a person’s blood it sticks to the walls of arteries blocking blood flow, potentially leading to heart disease and heart attacks.
The latest findings echo recent research from other countries that demonstrate that the saturated fat from cheese does not adversely impact blood cholesterol profiles due to the unique set of nutrients it contains.
“What we saw was that in the high consumers [of cheese] they had a significantly higher intake of saturated fat than the non-consumers and the low consumers and yet there was no difference in their LDL cholesterol levels,” said lead paper author Dr Emma Feeney.
“We have to consider not just the nutrients themselves but also the matrix in which we are eating them in and what the overall dietary pattern is, so not just about the food then, but the pattern of other foods we eat with them as well.”
The scientists also found that higher dairy intake was associated with lower body mass index, lower percentage of body fat, lower waist size and lower blood pressure.
When examining dietary patterns, they discovered that people who regularly consumed low-fat milk and yoghurt tended to have higher intakes of carbohydrates.
They were also surprised to find that people in the ‘low-fat’ dietary pattern group had greater LDL cholesterol levels.
The NHS currently advises that a diet high in saturated fat can raise the level of cholesterol in the blood.
“Saturated fat is the kind of fat found in butter and lard, pies, cakes and biscuits, fatty cuts of meat, sausages and bacon, and cheese and cream,” the website says.
“We’re advised to eat less fat, especially saturated fat.”
NHS health guidelines recommend that the average man should eat no more than 30g of saturated fat per day and the average woman should eat no more than 20g of saturated fat per day.
The UCD research paper is published in the journal Nutrition and Diabetes.