What you eat can affect your cholesterol levels, with some foods increasing your risk for high cholesterol and some foods potentially helping you lower your cholesterol levels.
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Saturated fat and dietary cholesterol, both found in cheese, are two of the main culprits for increasing your cholesterol levels. Cheese, however, may have either a neutral or beneficial effect on your cholesterol levels.
Effect on Low-Density Lipoprotein
Low-density lipoprotein is considered "bad" cholesterol because it can increase your risk for heart disease and clogged arteries. Cheese may have a neutral effect on your low-density lipoprotein, even when you get up to 13 percent of your calories from cheese for a period of six weeks, according to a study published in October 2011 in the "American Journal of Clinical Nutrition."
Eating 40 grams of fat from butter each day increased total cholesterol and LDL levels compared to a diet lower in saturated fat. According to a study published in the "European Journal of Clinical Nutrition" in 2005, getting the same amount of fat from cheese didn't increase LDL cholesterol.
Fermentation may be a reason for the neutral effect on LDL cholesterol. Natural cheeses are considered a fermented food. While there has not been an established reason for the effect of cheese on LDL cholesterol, researchers think the good bacteria found in cheese may be part of the reason it does not raise LDL levels.
Effect on High-Density Lipoprotein
High-density lipoprotein, on the other hand, is considered "good" cholesterol because it helps to remove cholesterol from your blood and lower your risk for heart disease.
The evidence for the ability of cheese to raise HDL levels is inconclusive. A study published in the "Journal of Food Lipids" in February 2009 found that people who ate cheese more often had higher HDL levels than those who ate cheese less often. Study results also indicated that high-cheese consumption may lower your triglyceride levels, further lowering your heart disease risk. However, a 2017 article published in "Nutrition & Diabetes" found that intake of cheese had no effect on HDL cholesterol.
Heart Disease Risk Factors
High cholesterol is a risk factor for heart disease. A 2014 article published in "Current Nutrition Reports" concluded that eating dairy products in general do not contribute to, nor decrease the risk for heart disease. Some studies, however, found that yogurt and cheese may offer slight protective benefits to the body.
Calorie and Fat Considerations
Even if the saturated fat in cheese doesn't raise your cholesterol levels, you still need to watch your cheese consumption. Cheese is an energy-dense food high in both fat and calories, making it easy to go over your daily calorie needs if you eat too much of it.
For example, an ounce of cheddar cheese, which is about the size of your thumb, has 9.3 grams of fat and 113 calories, an ounce of Swiss cheese has 7.8 grams of fat and 106 calories and an ounce of mozzarella cheese has 6.3 grams of fat and 84 calories.
While cheese does not seem to raise cholesterol levels by itself, it should be consumed with other healthy foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats to help keep blood cholesterol levels in check.