That’s the conclusion reached by a new Danish study published in the US Journal of Clinical Nutrition, which aimed to compare the effects of diets of equal fat content – either a diet rich in hard cheese or butter – on blood pressure and fasting serum blood lipids.
The researchers – from the Department of Human Nutrition, Faculty of Life Sciences at the University of Copenhagen – also assessed C-reactive protein levels, glucose and insulin, while they also assessed whether fecal fat excretion differed with consumption of cheese or butter.
Julie Hjerpsted, Eva Leedo and Tine Tholstrup wrote in their introduction: “Reports on the effect of fermented dairy products on serum cholesterol levels remain ambiguous. Cheese is a high-fat fermented dairy product and would be expected to increase serum cholesterol levels, thereby increasing the risk of CVD [cardiovascular disease].”
Significant cohort study
But the authors noted that a recent prospective cohort study of over 120,000 men and women followed for 10 years by Goldbohm et al. found no association between cheese intake and risk of ischemic heart disease.
In terms of design, dietary interventions were assessed for six weeks, following a 14-day run-in period when subjects consumed their normal diet.
49 men and women aged from 22-69 years old were recruited, all of whom replaced part of their normal dietary fat intake with 13 per cent of energy from cheese or butter.
After six weeks, results showed that the cheese intervention resulted in lower serum total LDL cholesterol, and HDL cholesterol concentrations, compared with butter interventions.
Hjerpsted, Leedo and Tholstrup wrote: “Cheese intake did not increase serum total or LDL-cholesterol concentrations compared with the run-in period, during which total fat and saturated fat intakes were lower. Fecal fat excretion did not differ between the cheese and butter periods.”
Cheese lowered LDL cholesterol
The authors concluded that cheese lowered LDL cholesterol when compared with butter intake of an equal fat content and did not increase LDL cholesterol compared with a normal diet.
In sum, the scientists found that, despite its high saturated fatty acid content, cheese did not seem to increase plasma total and LDL cholesterol concentrations compared with an equivalent intake of fat from butter.
“This effect may be due to the high calcium content of cheese, which results in a higher excretions of fecal fat,” the authors wrote.
Asked about the significance of the findings, any study limitations and necessary future research, co-author Julie Hjerpsted told DairyReporter.com: “We still need to elucidate possible mechanisms, which we are currently working on.”
Title: ‘Cheese intake in large amounts lowers LDL cholesterol concentrations compared with butter intake of equal fat content’
Authors: J. Hjerpsted, E.Leeda, T.Tholstrup
Source: The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2011; 94:1479-84. Published online ahead of print October 26, doi:10.3945/ajcn.111.022426