This new study may justify your love of cheese
Whether you're paying attention to what's on your plate more for its Instagram potential or, you know, its nutritional value, eating habits are important. Keeping up with the latest food trends ("_ is the new kale!") can score you major likes and major health benefits. But while the açai bowls and avocado toasts of the world might come and go, there is one food that will always stay near and dear to our taste buds even if it is a total indulgence: cheese.
A new study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition made headlines with the claim that snacking on full-fat cheese might not affect LDL cholesterol (the "bad" kind) levels as we once thought—totally flying in the face of the splurge mentality we've built up around the beloved dairy product. But the findings have a few important caveats. The current case against cheese, specifically full-fat cheese, is that it's high in saturated fats—which keeps it on the no-no list of most dietary guidelines. But researchers from the University of Copenhagen in Denmark questioned whether we've been unfairly vilifying the full-fat dairy product. One more piece of information to digest before you read the results: The study was partially funded by various Danish dairy organizations.
To see how eating full-fat versus reduced-fat cheese really impacts our health, the researchers split 139 participants into three groups: One ate about 2.5 servings worth of hard and semisoft cheese every day, a second group ate the same amount of low-fat cheese, and a final group, the control group, had no cheese, instead getting a carb-heavy diet of toast and jam. At the end of the 12-week study, the researchers measured a variety of health signals, including cholesterol levels, blood pressure, waist circumference, and blood levels of insulin, glucose, and triacylglycerol.
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Instead of the full-fat cheese diet being a fast track to weight gain and skyrocketing cholesterol levels, the researchers found the opposite. Neither of the cheese-eating groups saw increases in waist circumference, blood sugar, triglyceride levels, or levels of LDL cholesterol (that's the "bad" one). But even more surprising, the full-fat cheese eaters saw an increase in HDL cholesterol (that's the "good" one), leading researchers to the conclusion that if you're going to eat cheese, the full-fat stuff is the healthier way to go.
The question mark keeping us from dropping everything to dash off to our local fromagerie to stock up on cheese has to do with overall diet. "One food is not going to make or break someone's health," says registered nutritionist Keri Gans. "What we should be focusing on whenever we look at specific foods and findings like those in this study is portion size and overall diet." The study didn't track what the participants ate (or how much exercise they got) outside of their portion of cheese. If the rest of your diet is very low in fat, getting a little extra in the form of full-fat cheese can be totally OK and even good for you (we do need fat as part of a healthy diet). But if you're already getting a lot of saturated fats from other food sources, these findings aren't an excuse to go crazy, says Gans. "No matter how you slice it, [consuming] too many calories is going to lead to weight gain no matter which foods those calories are coming from."
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So no, going on a cheese binge still isn't healthy (sadly). What we can take away from the study is that it's totally fine to enjoy your full-fat cheese when you do indulge. "The truth is most people will agree that full-fat cheese tastes better," says Gans. "People are usually having cheese as a snack, and I want them to feel satisfied and enjoy that snack as part of their overall diet."
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