Sacre bleu! The French diet – rich in cheese – has been hailed a healthy lifesaver. Experts claim that brie, camembert, roquefort – and any other variety – helps cut the amount of dangerous cholesterol in people’s bodies, leading to a reduced risk of suffering a heart attack.
The discovery is being hailed a new piece in the ‘French paradox’ puzzle which already shows that drinking red wine cuts cardiovascular disease rates.
Trying to find out why people in France enjoy low rates of heart disease despite a diet high in saturated fats has spurred countless hours of research.
Most explanations focus on wine and lifestyle, but now scientists say a key role could belong to another French staple – cheese.
The evidence, researchers claim, is in the metabolism of cheese.
The study team from Aarhus University, Denmark, looked into recent research on dairy products’ positive effects on health which casts doubt on the once-firm rule that saturated fats are bad for our hearts.
One study found that cheese reduced so-called bad cholesterol when compared to butter with the same fat content, suggesting that high cheese consumption could help explain the French paradox.
To further investigate this possible explanation, study leader Hanne Bertram and colleagues team looked into how cheese is digested.
The researchers compared urine and faecal samples from 15 healthy men whose diets either contained cheese or milk, or who ate a control diet with butter but no other dairy products.
They found that those who consumed cheese had higher levels of butyrate, a compound produced by gut bacteria.
Higher levels of the chemical were linked to a reduction in cholesterol.
Writing in the report, Ms Bertram said: ‘This study suggests that cheese could be an important piece in the French paradox puzzle.
‘Cheese was associated with a different metabolic response when compared with milk consumption.
‘However, further studies are needed to explore the exact mechanisms linking cheese consumption, stimulation of gut bacteria and cholesterol.’
The findings were published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.
The findings echo results of a recently-published Swedish study, which said eating plenty of cheese and yogurt could be the key to staving off diabetes.
Eating high fat cheese and yoghurt lowered the risk of type 2 diabetes by a quarter, but high fat meat increased the risk.
Lead researchers Dr Ulrika Ericson said:
‘Those who ate the most high-fat dairy products had a 23 per cent lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes than those who ate the least.’