Aarhus University Seal

Cheese is surprisingly healthy

Scientists may have solved the conundrum of why the French can drink wine and eat lots of cheese – and still remain slim and healthy. It appears that cheese is an important piece in this puzzle.

[Translate to English:] Ost har tilsyneladende sundhedsgavnlige effekter. Foto: Colourbox

Why can the French drink red wine and eat lots of cheese and baguettes and still have a relatively low level of cardiovascular disease? Scientists from Aarhus University have tracked down an answer to this question. The secret appears to be in the cheese.


The interesting results are from a research project that postdoc Morten Rahr Clausen from the Department of Food Science at Aarhus University participates in and which is a joint effort with the University of Copenhagen. The scientists found that cheese has several health benefits. When you eat cheese, the cheese affects the composition of the bacterial flora in the gut. Cheese also helps to increase your energy consumption. This can be an advantage if you are trying to lose weight.


The study included a test group of 15 men who received a diet that contained either large amounts of milk or cheese but no other dairy products for two weeks. As a control, one of the test groups was given a diet with butter as the only dairy product and thus all the diets had the same number of calories and amount of fat.


Cheese is good for you

Analyses of urine and faeces from the men showed that the men who were given a diet containing cheese or milk had a higher level of the anti-inflammatory fatty acid butyrate. Not only does butyrate help reduce cardiovascular disease, the fatty acid also acts as a catalyst for the metabolic rate, keeps the blood fat percentage low and helps prevent obesity. The changes were most pronounced in cheese eaters.


The scientists found that the ingestion of cheese gave a higher level of short-chain fatty acids in the intestine, perhaps as a result of stimulation of beneficial gut bacteria, and also increased secretion of fats with the positive effects this has on the metabolism of cholesterol. In addition, there was a lower production of TMAO, a substance that in other studies has been associated with cardiovascular disease.


- This study suggests that cheese can be an important piece of the puzzle in the French paradox, says Morten Rahr Clausen in reference the fact that the French have a low incidence of heart disease despite a diet with a relatively high content of saturated fatty acids. The French eat on average 25 kg of cheese per year. In comparison, the average Dane eats just 15 kg of cheese per year.


Scientists are not sure whether the healthy substances come directly from the cheese, or whether they are formed by the gut bacteria with help from substances found in the cheese.


- We need more studies to identify more precisely the mechanisms linking cheese-eating with gut flora and cholesterol, says Morten Rahr Clausen.


The study was supported by funds from Innovation Fund Denmark, Arla Foods and the Danish Dairy Research Foundation, and is part of the project "FIAF – Milk in regulating lipid metabolism and overweight. Uncovering milk's ability to increase expression and activity of fasting-induced adipose factor".


The scientific article "Metabolomics Investigation to shed light on cheese as a possible piece in the French paradox puzzle" in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry can be read here.


For further information please contact: Postdoc Morten Rahr Clausen, Department of Food Science, email: mortenr.clausen@food.au.dk, telephone: +45 8715 8318