Why low-fat cheese won't help you cut cholesterol

By Pat Hagan

The researchers found no difference between fatty or 'healthy' cheese in terms of LDL cholesterol. Photo / Getty Images
The researchers found no difference between fatty or 'healthy' cheese in terms of LDL cholesterol. Photo / Getty Images

In the battle of the bulge, fat-laden cheese is often the first tasty treat to be scrubbed from the weekly shopping list.

But research suggests that consumers who switch to low-calorie alternatives may be wasting their cash.

A study found that 'skinny' cheese does not lower cholesterol, reduce blood pressure or help to trim the waistline.

Volunteers who spent three months eating a daily portion of regular fat-cheese, or a low-calorie option, saw little or no difference in heart disease risk by the end of the experiment.

The Danish researchers used two types of cheese - regular cheddar and danbo, a Danish cheese made from semi-soft, aged cow's milk.

The findings could dent sales in the fast-growing healthy cheese market.

Annual UK sales of reduced-fat cheese are thought to be in excess of £70million a year as health-conscious shoppers reject full-fat favourites.

Most big brand suppliers of cheddar cheese, for example, offer reduced-fat versions. Skinny cheddar contains around 22 per cent fat, compared with 35 per cent normally.

It has about a third less saturated animal fat - thought to be harmful to the heart - than conventional cheddar. But at around 14 per cent, its saturated fat levels are still relatively high.

By comparison, cottage cheese has only 3 per cent saturated fat, ricotta 6 per cent and mozzarella 12 per cent.

The researchers, from the University of Copenhagen, recruited 139 men and women with early warning signs of heart disease and allocated them a daily 80 gram portion of full-fat cheese or the same amount of a low-calorie variety.

The results, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, showed 'skinny' cheese had no impact on the risk of heart disease.

The researchers found no difference between fatty or 'healthy' cheese in terms of LDL cholesterol - the harmful fat in the blood that clogs up arteries and raises the risk of heart attacks and strokes. Levels of HDL - or 'good' cholesterol - were also the same, as were blood sugar and insulin readings. And daily portions of healthy cheese had no impact on blood pressure or waistlines.

The researchers, who received sponsorship from the Danish dairy industry to carry out the study, said the market for reduced-fat cheese had boomed without any real evidence that it was beneficial to cardiac health. In a report on the findings, they said: '"Regular-fat cheese contains a high amount of saturated fat. Therefore, dietary guidelines in many countries recommend the consumption of reduced-fat cheese instead.

"However, the negative effect of regular-fat cheese is still under debate."

In Britain, the Dairy Council, which represents cheese manufacturers, said the study proved consumers are just as well off eating full-fat cheese, which is rich in other vital nutrients.

Senior nutrition scientist Erica Hocking said: "This study shows there's much more to cheese than fat.

"The heavy focus on the fat content of cheese has almost made people forget about the wealth of nutrients found in dairy foods, which are an important part of a healthy and balanced diet."

- Daily Mail

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