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What's new and beneficial about grass-fed cheese?

What's New and Beneficial About Grass-Fed Cheese

  • Research on food and type 2 diabetes has typically focused on foods that are rich in both protein and fiber, with less attention paid to animal foods like cheese that are rich in protein but don't contain any fiber. However, a recent study from Denmark has shown better regulation of blood sugar levels following moderate intake of cheese (a little less than one ounce per day). In fact, consumption not only of cheese, but also of fermented dairy foods in general (like yogurt), were associated with some blood sugar benefits in this study. The researchers suggested that the presence of two fat-soluble vitamins — vitamins K and D— in cheese was as a possible reason for the blood sugar benefits. Both vitamins have been shown to play a role in blood sugar regulation. Due to the use of vitamin K-synthesizing bacteria as a way to start the cheese fermentation process, vitamin K is present in most cheeses in the form of menaquinone. Vitamin D is present in cheese as a naturally occurring nutrient in cow's milk or as a vitamin added during milk fortification. The calcium-rich nature of cheese may also play a role in beneficial regulation of blood sugar since calcium deficiency—especially in combination with vitamin D deficiency—is a known risk factor for blood sugar problems.
  • You're likely to get at least 30 milligrams of CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) from one ounce of grass-fed cheese. CLA is a type of fat associated with a wide variety of health benefits, including immune and inflammatory system support, improved bone mass, improved blood sugar regulation, reduced body fat, reduced risk of heart attack, and maintenance of lean body mass. The amount of CLA in cheese tends to increase along with consumption of fresh grasses by the cows whose milk is used to make the cheese. When cows have had ample year-round access to fresh pasture, you are likely to get increased amounts of CLA, even above the level of 30 milligrams per ounce.
  • CLA is not the only fat-related benefit provided by grass-fed cheese. Greater levels of omega-3 fat, less palmitic acid (a long chain saturated fat), and a better ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fat are additional benefits by grass-fed cheese. You're likely to get at least 100 milligrams of omega-3 fat from an ounce of most grass-fed cheeses, mostly in the form of ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), but also including a small amounts of DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) in the range of 5-10 milligrams. (Along with eicosapentaenoic acid, or EPA, DHA is one of the most prized omega-3 fats found in fish like salmon.) In the U.S., the average adult has a far too high ratio of omega-6:omega-3 fat in his or her diet. This ratio is often 7:1 or higher. In recent studies, grass-fed cheese has been shown to provide a ratioof 4:1, at most; ratios of 3:1, 2:1, and even 1.5:1 are also often offered by grass-fed cheese.
  • Scientists have long been aware of the link between a healthy digestive tract—with ample amounts of "friendly" bacteria—and a healthy immune system. But only recently have researchers begun to investigate this set of issues in relationship to cheese. In particular, researchers have become interested in the digestive and immune benefits potentially associated with intake of "probiotic cheese." This term refers to cheese that has been deliberately inoculated with friendly bacteria able to survive in sufficient numbers in our digestive tract after the cheese is consumed. Even though living bacteria are present in virtually all fermented cheeses, their numbers are often not large enough to affect the balance of bacteria in our digestive tract. When counting up the number of bacteria in a typical cheddar cheese, for example, it would not be uncommon to find 1,000s or perhaps 10,000s of what are called "colony forming units" (or CFUs) per gram of cheese. While these numbers might sound quite high, they are actually not high numbers in relationship to bacteria. The informal industry standard for a probiotic cheese is actually one million CFUs per gram of cheese and some probiotic cheeses may contain billions of CFUs per gram. In several preliminary studies—including one study of older individuals (with an average age of 86 years) consuming one half ounce of probiotic cheese every day for 4 weeks—researchers were able to detect immune system benefits, including increased activity of immune cells and increased numbers of some immune cell types (particularly phagocytes). We expect to see more research in this area in the future with cheese and also with other fermented foods.

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