If cheese makes your emotional heart aflutter, be merry: cheese may also help your actual heart health, too. While having a high level of sodium in your diet generally damages your blood vessels' ability to function well, getting high levels of sodium through cheese may not be as bad as previously thought, a new study says. Apparently, there are antioxidants in cheese that may protect your blood vessels — meaning, cheese's health benefits may be more numerous than you think.
The study, published in The Journal of Nutrition and supported in part by the National Dairy Council, compared the blood vessel health of 11 adult participants who followed various cheese- and sodium-related diets for eight days. During this eight-day period, participants who had a low sodium diet without eating cheese had the most effective blood vessel movement. In other words, having low sodium with no cheese showed the most positive cardiovascular response.
However, for participants who had high sodium diets during the eight day trial period, also eating cheese helped reduce the negative effects of salt on the body's blood vessels. The study concluded that there are antioxidants in cheese that, if you already have a lot of sodium in your diet, can help you process that sodium in a more effective, heart-healthy way.
If the small sample size, short time frame, and the fact that the study was supported by the National Dairy Council are giving you pause, you would not be wrong to take this study with a big grain of, well, salt. Eating cheese isn't going to cure issues related from high sodium intake – and, in fact, eating cheese in excess can contribute to health issues related to cholesterol and saturated fat, not to mention causing digestive issues like constipation. Still, if you like cheese, this is an interesting piece of cheese science that will help researchers unlock more of its health benefits.
Blood vessel function can be severely impaired by relatively high intake of salt in your diet, according to a 2015 study published in the journal Current Opinion in Nephrology and Hypertension. Even if your high sodium intake doesn't affect your blood pressure, the study concluded, it may well be negatively impacting the ability of your blood vessels to function at peak levels.
And, cheese lovers, this is where your fave comes in. Because the new study in The Journal of Nutrition found that you can have your cheese and eat it too. The antioxidants that come from your body digesting cheese is the key, the study said. These peptides can help bind to oxidizing molecules from high sodium intake, basically taking them out of play so that your blood vessels can remain in pretty good shape. And this current study isn't the only one: a 2018 study published in the journal Current Antherosclerosis Reports also found that integrating dairy products into your diet might improve cardiovascular health.
But don't chow down on all things cheese just yet. According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, fruits and vegetables are also extremely effective sources of antioxidants that can also help improve the health of your blood vessels.
And even though cheese might just be awesome at helping your blood vessels out, its cheesy awesomeness might make you forget: according to the Genetics Home Reference (GHR) guide published in the U.S. National Library of Medicine, about 65% of humans have some level of lactose intolerance. This intolerance can lead to an array of digestive issues such as bloating, diarrhea, and gas, and according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, lactose intolerance can also prevent you from getting the nutrients you need to maintain bone and heart health.
So when it comes to heart health, it's important to keep a balance in mind: if trying to maintain low sodium levels is proving ineffective for you, this new study suggests that eating some cheese might be a good preventative measure to protect your blood vessels. But if maintaining a low sodium intake is plausible for you, that might be an effective way to go, too. Whatever your salt tendencies are, and however you feel about cheese (I see you, vegans!), the science seems clear that there is no one way to maintain a healthy heart.