We’re all encouraged to follow a Mediterranean-style diet that focuses on plant-based foods, fish and fermented dairy products. This diet seems to be part of the formula hit upon by Mediterranean people for enjoying long healthy lives. Including fermented dairy foods such as yogurt and cheese within this healthy diet is a great way of taking in gut-friendly bacteria and lots of protein, vitamins and minerals. Evidence suggests that cheese in particular may also help to reduce risk factors linked to heart disease and stroke.
The authors of this study looked at the dietary habits of overweight elderly people in Spain who had risk factors that made it more likely that they would suffer a heart attack or stroke. These cardiometabolic risk factors could include excess fat around their waist, high blood pressure, high blood sugar levels/type 2 diabetes, low blood levels of ‘good’ cholesterol (HDL-cholesterol), and/or high blood levels of triglycerides.
People who eat yogurt and cheese have a healthier diet
Nearly all the people the authors assessed consumed at least some fermented dairy products. People who frequently ate yogurt or cheese had a healthier diet overall than people who didn’t eat these foods very often. The frequent consumers of fermented foods ate more fruit, vegetables, fish, nuts and wholemeal bread, and less white bread, cookies and alcohol than the infrequent consumers.
‘Our results show that, compared to consumers below the median, high consumers of total fermented dairy products had a better quality of diet and a greater adherence to the MedDiet.’ – Mena-Sánchez et al, 2018.
Do fermented dairy products affect the risk of developing disease?
The authors found that total intake of yogurt and cheese was not associated with any of the risk factors for heart disease or stroke.
They also didn’t see any association when they looked at total yogurt intake, or specifically at whole-fat yogurt or low-fat yogurt.
Cheese is linked to improved blood lipids (fats)
In the overall study population, eating cheese frequently was associated with a 12% reduction in the risk of having low blood levels of ‘good’ HDL-cholesterol. It was also associated with a 17% reduction in the risk of having high blood levels of triglycerides.
‘…those individuals in higher quartiles of cheese consumption had a lower prevalence of low HDL-cholesterol and hypertriglyceridemia….’ – Mena-Sánchez et al, 2018.
The authors are keen that more studies are done to look at the effects of fermented dairy products on risk factors so that people can be given clear dietary advice. Preventing inflammation may be more important than blood cholesterol levels in explaining the benefits, they say.