Is Eating Cheese Bad For You? How It Affects Your Cholesterol, Weight & Health

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Is Cheese Bad For Cholesterol? How It Affects Your Weight & Health
Health And Wellness

After reading the news about a study out of Ireland, instead of passing on my favorite cheese, I’ll be saying, “Pass the cheese, please!” far more often.

Is cheese bad for you and your cholesterol?

According to researchers at University College Dublin, it turns out that cheese isn’t necessarily the villainous dairy product many of us have believed it to be.

Scientists from Food for Health Ireland, hosted at UCD, looked into the way dairy intake affected the body fat and cholesterol levels of 1500 Irish adults between the ages of 18 and 90. More specifically, they monitored participants' intake of cheese, milk, yogurt, cream and butter, then conducted an analysis of the correlation between their dietary patterns and HDL ("good") and LDL ("bad") cholesterol levels, body fat, waist size, BMI, and blood pressure.

Among the heart-warming findings published in the journal Nutrition and Diabetes, the researchers reported that, despite the fact that eating cheese means consuming high amounts of saturated fats, "eating large amounts of cheese did not lead to increased blood LDL cholesterol levels."

And that was far from the only surprising information they learned.

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In addition to the good news about cholesterol, they found that people who eat more cheese and dairy products are more likely to have a lower BMI, lower body fat percentage, lower waist size, and lower blood pressure.

And in an unexpected twist, they also found that people who opt for consuming more low-fat milk and yogurt take in higher levels of carbohydrates, and those with a low fat dietary pattern have higher LDL blood cholesterol levels.

"What we saw was that in the high consumers [of cheese] they had a significantly higher intake of saturated fat than the non-consumers and the low consumers and yet there was no difference in their LDL Cholesterol levels,” said lead author Dr. Emma Feeney.

“We have to consider not just the nutrients themselves but also the matrix in which we are eating them in and what the overall dietary pattern is," she continued, "so not just about the food then, but the pattern of other foods we eat with them as well.”

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Since this happy information does seem a bit strange, the folks at SheKnows consulted with registered dietician Alix Turoff about the topic.

"Cholesterol is essential for the body. It not only comes from our food, but it’s also made in our liver, which makes enough cholesterol to satisfy the body’s needs," Turoff said. "People used to think that the more dietary cholesterol they ate, the higher their blood cholesterol would rise, which we now know isn't true. In fact, the liver will down-regulate its creation of cholesterol when it senses that we are getting enough through our food, which is why we have to take our whole diet into account. You can eat dairy in a smart way — by putting feta cheese on a salad or have Greek yogurt as a snack, for instance."

Well, after laying it out like that, the whole “cheese isn’t so bad” thing is starting to make more sense.

However, Dr. Philip Goglia, founder of online nutrition platform, G-Plans, begged to differ.

"While many people consider dairy to be a protein, the body will utilize it first as lactose, or milk sugar," Dr. Goglia explained. "Therefore, people who believe that they can get sufficient protein in their daily diet from eating dairy products like cheese and milk are misinformed. Instead, dairy as food is phlegm and mucus-producing. This is disruptive to digestion, causing bloating and gas. It's also inflammatory and will elevate triglyceride levels and the risk of sugar sensitivities.”

Man, what a buzzkill.

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No matter who you decide to put your faith in on the question of whether or not cheese is bad for you, it's important to remember that, overall, diet is one of the most important factors when it comes to taking care of your health.

The subject of cheese is still quite confusing, as studies across the board differ quite a lot.

However, things may be looking up for cheese lovers. So if you love yourself a bit of Brie or a good chunk of Gouda now and then, go for it.

Just remember, as with most things in life, it's all about moderation.

RELATED: 8 Reasons Cheese Is Basically The Best Friend You'll Ever Have

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Shannon Ullman is a freelance writer and editor based in Pittsburgh, PA.