Not all diets are created equal, but among even the zaniest of fad diets, certain nutritional ideas seem set in stone. For example: protein is good, grains should be whole, and too much saturated fat increases your risk of cardiovascular disease.
But listen up, cheese lovers: that last tidbit of advice might not be as sound as we once thought. A December 2022 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that saturated fats from cheese, milk, and other dairy products might have more benefits than downsides.
Read on to learn about the science behind why cheese and other dairy products are so gouda for us (sorry, we had to).
Not All Saturated Fats
The American Heart Association recommends limiting saturated fats found in cheese, red meat, other animal-based foods, and tropical oils. “Decades of sound science has proven it can raise your ‘bad’ cholesterol and put you at higher risk for heart disease,” the AHA’s website says.
But researchers at the Boston University School of Medicine wanted to dig into the idea that all saturated fats are bad. Their study argues that “current dietary guidance recommends limiting intakes of saturated fats. But most fail to consider that saturated fats from different food sources may have different health effects.”
The study looked at 2,391 adults over 30. Researchers evaluated the associations of saturated fats from dairy and nondairy sources with body fat, inflammatory biomarkers, and lipid particle size and concentrations.
The Big Cheddar Of Saturated Fats
Researchers compared women in the highest and lowest 20% of dairy saturated fat intake and found some unexpected differences. First, those in the highest intake group had significantly lower body fat and percentage of fat mass.
Additionally, blood tests revealed that those who ate more saturated fat from dairy had higher HDL (good cholesterol) and lower triglycerides. Researchers did not find these positive associations with nondairy saturated fats.
The study’s findings suggest that while some saturated fats can negatively impact our cardiovascular health, saturated fats from dairy seem to be the exception. However, there are some caveats to consider with these findings.
First, these cardiovascular benefits were seen less often in female study participants. Second, this was an observational study. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition prefaces the study by saying these associations aren’t definitive proof of a causal relationship. However, the study serves as a good jumping-off point for further research.
Pass The Cheese, Please!
As with anything, saturated fats—even those from dairy—are still best consumed in moderation. But this study provides a glimmer of hope for cheese lovers by suggesting that maintaining a healthy diet doesn’t necessarily mean banishing your favorite cheddar and brie.