Figuring out why the French have low cardiovascular disease rates despite a diet high in saturated fats has spurred research and many theories to account for this phenomenon known as the “French paradox.” Most explanations focus on wine and lifestyle, but a key role could belong to another French staple: cheese. The evidence, say scientists in ACS’ Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, is in cheese metabolism.
Hanne Bertram and colleagues note that recent research on some dairy products’ positive effects on health has cast doubt on the once-firm rule that saturated fats are bad for our hearts. For example, one study found that cheese reduced “bad” cholesterol when compared to butter with the same fat content, suggesting that high cheese consumption could help explain the French paradox. To further investigate this possible explanation, Bertram’s team looked into how cheese gets digested.
The researchers compared urine and fecal samples from 15 healthy men whose diets either contained cheese or milk, or who ate a control diet with butter but no other dairy products. They found that those who consumed cheese had higher fecal levels of butyrate, a compound produced by gut bacteria. Elevated butyrate levels were linked to a reduction in cholesterol. Their results, they say, suggest a role for gut microbes and further shore up the connection between cheese and the French paradox.