Cheese as a missing link

Red wine might not be the whole story (Photo: boo_licious)

Red wine might not be the whole story (Photo: boo_licious)

Regular wine consumption, and the resveratrol in red wine in particular, has long been seen as an explanation to the remarkably low levels of cardiovascular mortality seen in France despite high saturated fat consumption, a phenomenon called the “French paradox“. However, despite a persistent nationwide decline in wine consumption, no concomitant increase in cardiovascular disease has been seen in the lucky French, while for unfortunate Eastern Europeans alarming rates of cardiovascular disease remain despite growing demand for red wine. How come?

The beneficial effects of cheese

It now seems that the French paradox is more likely a multifactorial phenomenon as scientists started to look at other contributing diet factors. Since cheese and cheese-based products are essential ingredients of the typical French diet, scientists shone their spotlight on factors in the 247 varieties available to the French consumers that could contribute to the beneficial heart protecting effects.

And they revealed that there was a positive effect of cheese consumption on lipoprotein turnover and plasma lipid profile, haemorheological parameters and inflammatory status. Novel peptides formed during cheese fermentation were shown to inhibit the angiotensin-converting enzyme which controls systemic blood pressure. Even better, moulded cheeses, like lovely Roquefort cheese, may be even more favorable to cardiovascular health due to the presence of secondary metabolites produced by Penicillium roqueforti and other fungi that inhibit cholesterol biosynthesis and bacterial growth.

The gut microflora may be an intermediary

Roquefort cheese seems to be particularly beneficial (Photo: Rainer Knäpper)

Roquefort cheese seems to be particularly beneficial (Photo: Rainer Knäpper)

Further proof of the beneficial effects of cheese consumption was provided by a team of Denmark-based researchers. In an admittedly small sample, 15 healthy men aged 18-50 years participated in a full crossover study for two weeks during which they consumed three isocaloric diets with similar fat contents that were either high in milk, high in cheese with equal amounts of dairy calcium, or a control diet using butter.

In analysing urine and faeces samples the researchers found that, compared with milk intake, cheese consumption significantly reduced urinary citrate, creatine, and creatinine levels and significantly increased the microbiota-related metabolites butyrate, hippurate, and malonate. Correlation analyses indicated that microbial and lipid metabolism could be involved in beneficial effects seen on blood cholesterol levels after cheese consumption. The researchers suggested that cheese, compared to butter or milk, may beneficially modify the gut microflora, expelling greater amounts of butyrate – a compound associated with cardiovascular disease – and increasing short-chain fatty acids.

The best of both worlds

So leaving all the chemical jargon behind, the positive message seems to be that it is possible to combine health and pleasure by regularly enjoying a glass of wine with some cheese. But remember to keep an eye on the waist line, don’t overdo the calorie intake.

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