Can eating cheese increase your life expectancy?
We are undeniably a world of cheese lovers. In the US alone, the average American consumes 37 pounds of the yellow stuff each year, while the level of cheese production worldwide grew 21% between 2005 and 2014, by far the most of any dairy product. Not only are we eating more cheese, but it’s increasingly permeating into popular culture, with everything from cheese crawls to festivals now commonplace. But this desirable dairy delight isn’t just delicious—its numerous purported health benefits may even help extend our lives. In pleasant news for turophiles everywhere, a recent study of 200,000 individuals found that cheese consumption can reduce the risk of heart disease by up to 14%.
Can cheese really help us live for longer or are these findings simply too good to be true? We take a deep dive into the facts to come up with a definitive answer.
The health benefits of cheese
Reduces the risk of strokes
While the above findings may be surprising to some, it actually backs up previous research. A 2015 study found no relationship between dairy product consumption and heart disease for those aged 55 and over, while also showing that people who ate high-fat dairy products were less susceptible to strokes. This is thought to be down to the amount of calcium in cheese, which has been proven to improve the performance of blood vessels, reducing the strain on our arteries and contributing towards a healthy heart.
Keeps bones and teeth healthy
Another benefit of cheese is how it contributes to bone development. Roughly 99% of the calcium in our bodies is located in our bones, yet we can’t produce this ourselves and rely on our diet to ensure our calcium levels aren’t depleted, which can lead to weaker bones. As cheese is high in calcium, it is a great way to consume the mineral. A calcium-rich diet can also improve dental health, considering it is essential to tooth formation, with studies showing it increases the pH level in dental plaque. Low pH levels in these instances can potentially lead to tooth erosion.
Improves gut health
Cheese can also boost healthy gut bacteria—otherwise known as probiotics. Everyone needs probiotics to help maintain balance and prevent things like digestive problems and weight gain, while they have even been shown to improve mental health. With cheese rich in probiotics, eating it can help us keep our bodies in tip-top condition.
The health risks of too much cheese
While the above facts are encouraging for cheese lovers, failing to consume cheese in moderation in the long term could still lead to problems. Too much can actually have the complete opposite effect on our heart’s health, considering the amount of saturated fat and salt cheese contains. Diets high in saturated fat and salt are known to raise cholesterol and blood pressure levels, both of which can result in cardiovascular disease. Beyond heart problems, such diets can also contribute towards health issues like obesity, diabetes, and kidney disease.
Moderation and balance is the way forward
All in all, it seems that cheese can indeed help us live longer, provided it’s eaten in moderation and as part of a balanced, healthy diet. With health officials actually recommending that we eat three 30g portions of dairy products a day, cheese can be an invaluable component of our diet. As long as we don’t regularly exceed this recommendation and eat cheese that complements the rest of our intake—like choosing calorie-light cheeses such as Innes Brick on otherwise calorific days—we can reap its health benefits and avoid the associated risks.