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Want a healthy heart? Bring on the cheese!

I’m sure many of you cheese lovers have heard that your beloved Taleggio and its concentration in saturated fats is on the naughty list for cholesterol and heart health. Those of us in the United States should be particularly concerned with heart disease, which kills one in four Americans. But while factors such as smoking, high blood pressure, and lack of exercise remain a concern, a new study on cheese’s relationship to your cholesterol levels shows you may be able to put your mind and monger at ease when it comes to your evening cheese plate!

A study published in August’s issue of The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows cheesy indulgences aren’t necessarily something we should be restricting, and cheese may in fact help our hearts. The study found that a diet that features regular-fat cheese did not affect LDL cholesterol (“bad” cholesterol), and that the cheese even boosts HDL (“good” cholesterol) when compared to a diet featuring reduced fat cheese or no cheese at all. After a 12-week-long period, tracking 164 individuals, scientists found no significant difference in LDL among the study groups. The study also found that HDL levels were actually higher with a regular-fat cheese diet than a no cheese diet and that there is no difference in HDL when ingesting the regular fat and reduced-fat varieties.

Overall, you’re not doing yourself any favors eating reduced-fat at the expense of your full-fat-loving tastebuds, and cheese in general may be part of your body’s heart-repairing, bad-cholesterol-fighting team!

Cheese Heart

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

When looking at heart health, Americans are often compared to the French due to their similar levels of saturated fats ingested (France does love its cheese!) and wildly different levels of heart disease. According to World Health Organization Statistics, the French die from heart disease at a rate that is less than half of what we see in Americans (France has 30 deaths per 100,000 compared to the US’s 78 per 100,000). France itself is only behind South Korea in terms of fewest deaths from heart disease. So why do the French fare better than Americans when it comes to heart health? Psychological research reveals what we know to be true—Americans, when compared to the French, put a higher emphasis on quantity over quality of what they eat. The French tend to be more mindful of their eating and eat less over a longer period of time.

While we must certainly celebrate our doctor-sanctioned cheese love (I know I did with Claire’s Mandell Hill for breakfast), this information also helps us focus on what causes the American plague of heart disease: a deficit of exercise and hefty portion sizes.

Photo Credit: Yotka fotoaloja | Shutterstock

Kara Kaminski-Killiany

​Kara is a Michigan cheesemaker, writer, and freelance behavioral economist who can’t get enough bloomy rind cheeses that perfectly melt just below the rind. She is happiest when tending goats, discovering unique cheese flavors from new sources, and decoding the puzzles of human behavior.​