When it comes to cheese consumption, the French are world champions—the average French person eats roughly 59 pounds of cheese per year, compared with about 34 pounds for the average American. Meanwhile, the French enjoy low rates of heart disease and a long life expectancy (82 years versus 78 for Americans). This phenomenon—called the French paradox—has long baffled scientists, but a group of researchers in Denmark may have discovered one piece of the puzzle: cheese’s effect on your microflora.
In a study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, scientists found that relatively high levels of cheese consumption (about 4.2 ounces a day, or the equivalent of four string cheese sticks) altered levels of certain compounds and microbiota-related metabolites in ways that can positively affect blood cholesterol levels and other biomarkers linked to heart health. The research team only tested a standard Danish soft cheese, so more studies will be needed to see if all cheese produces the same results. But the outlook is good.
“It appears that cheese stimulates production of short-chain fatty acids the gut,” says researcher Hanne C. Bertram, a professor in the Department of Food Science at Denmark’s Aarhus University. “We hypothesize that it is the fermentation process that the cheese undergoes that generates compounds with potential effects.”
Separate research on short-chain fatty acids suggests that, in addition to their link to lower blood cholesterol levels, they may also positively influence metabolism and help your body process glucose. More cheese, anyone?
Cheese Plate Wreath
- 1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese
- Zest of 1 lemon
- Leaves from 1 bunch of fresh thyme
- Red pepper flakes, to taste
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- 1 cup cheese curds or fresh mozzarella balls
- 8 ounces Parmesan or other hard cheese, broken up into bite-sized chunks
- 2 big bunches of fresh rosemary
- ½ cup dried cranberries
- ¼ cup honey for serving
- Open cream cheese. Wet hands slightly and tear off bits of cream cheese. Form into small balls, about 1 inch in diameter.
- On a flat plate, mix together zest, thyme, pepper flakes, salt and pepper.
- Roll cheese balls through spice mixture. Make sure each ball picks up a lot of the flavorful goodies. Store cheese balls in fridge until ready to use.
- To serve, cut bunches of rosemary, and form a wreath on a plate or cutting board. Place cream cheese balls, Parmesan chunks and cheese curds around your wreath like holiday ornaments. Fill in gaps with bright clusters of dried cranberries, and serve with a bit of honey on the side for dipping.