Eating dairy cheese may reduce sodium-related health risk

dairy cheese

Eating dairy cheese instead of other sodium-laden foods may actually protect against some of sodium’s effects on the cardiovascular system, such as high blood pressure, according to researchers at Penn State.

The researchers say the protection comes from antioxidant properties of dairy proteins in cheese.

This is a novel finding that may have implications for dietary recommendations.

Newer dietary recommendations suggest limiting sodium, but the data suggest that when sodium is consumed in cheese, it does not have the negative vascular effects that researchers observed with sodium from non-dairy sources.

The researchers interpret this to mean that the proteins and nutrients in cheese may be protecting the blood vessels from the short-term negative effects of sodium.

However, it is not known if this protection extends over the long term.

For the study, the researchers fed participants dairy cheese, pretzels or soy cheese on five separate occasions, three days apart.

They then compared the effects of each food on the cardiovascular system using a laser-Doppler, which shines a weak laser light onto the skin.

The laser light reflects off red blood cells that flow through the vessels just under the skin.

This allowed researchers to measure how much the blood vessels dilate in response to skin warming and how much of that dilation is due to the production of nitric oxide, a gas that’s naturally produced in the body to deliver messages between cells.

The goal was to compare the effect of short-term dairy cheese consumption to sodium consumption from non-dairy sources.

Soy served as an additional control to match the fat, salt and protein content from a dietary source that is not dairy-based.

The researchers found that when participants ate a lot of sodium in cheese, they had better blood vessel function — more blood flow — compared to when they ate an equal amount of sodium from non-dairy sources — in this case, pretzels and soy cheese.

It is known that more red blood cells means more blood flow and more dilation.

The researchers observed that participants had more nitric oxide-moderated dilation after eating dairy cheese, compared to after eating pretzels or soy cheese.

The researchers reported their findings in the British Journal of Nutrition. An ongoing follow-up study tests the same effects over a longer period of time.

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News source: Penn State.
Figure legend: This image is for illustrative purposes only.