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Natural antioxidants in cheese can protect your blood vessels from damage caused by high-salt diets

A study published in the Journal of Nutrition found that incorporating dairy cheese into a high-sodium diet helps preserve blood vessel function. Researchers from Pennsylvania State University and Ohio State University found that the natural antioxidants in cheese play a protective role against oxidative stress, which can damage the blood vessels.

While small doses of sodium are essential to the body, eating too much dietary sodium is associated with cardiovascular risk factors such as high blood pressure. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 2,300 milligrams (mg) of sodium a day, which is equal to one teaspoon of salt. However, Americans consume an average of 3,400 mg of sodium a day, according to data from the Food and Drug Administration.

“Possibly being able to incorporate more dairy products, like cheese, could be an alternative strategy to reduce cardiovascular risk and improve vessel health without necessarily reducing total sodium,” said first author Billie Alba.

Antioxidants in cheese protect blood vessels

Although cheese is high in sodium, prior research has already found that dairy foods can improve vascular health. In the study, the researchers examined the effects of cheese on the blood vessels among 11 adults without salt-sensitive blood pressure. The participants were required to follow each of the four diets for a period of eight days each: a low-sodium, no-dairy diet; a low-sodium, high-cheese diet; a high-sodium, no-dairy diet; and a high-sodium, high-cheese diet.

The low sodium diets entailed consuming 1,500 mg of salt a day while the high sodium diets entailed consuming 5,500 mg of salt. The cheese diets included about four servings of various types of cheese a day. The participants also went through blood pressure monitoring and provided a urine sample to ensure that they were following the prescribed diets.

At the end of each eight-day period, the researchers examined the participants by injecting a small amount of the drug acetylcholine, a compound that signals blood vessels to relax. By looking at how blood vessels reacted to the drug, the team was able to measure blood vessel function.

Results show that, during the high sodium, no-cheese diet, the participants did not respond well to acetylcholine with the blood vessels having a difficult time relaxing. However, this effect was not seen during the high-sodium, high-cheese diet.

According to co-author Lacy Alexander, when “they consumed the same amount of salt and ate cheese as a source of that salt, those effects were completely avoided.”

The researchers suggested that consuming sodium in cheese, rather than in non-dairy sources, may be effective in reducing cardiovascular disease risk without having to reduce total sodium intake. This has important implications because, according to Alba, “While there’s a big push to reduce dietary sodium, for a lot of people it’s difficult.”

Although the precise mechanisms behind the findings are unknown, the authors posited that the antioxidants in cheese may have played a role in offsetting the harmful effects of excessive sodium. Previous research found that dairy-based nutrients have the ability to scavenge molecules that are harmful to blood vessel health. These molecules, Alba said, proliferate due to excessive sodium. (Related: Fermented cheese whey can reduce symptoms of atherosclerosis.)

Healthiest types of cheese

Cheese can be very healthy, but certain varieties may provide more health benefits than other varieties.

For example, mozzarella and Swiss cheese are lower in sodium and calories than most other cheese while blue cheese and parmesan boast more calcium. Other varieties of cheese such as cheddar only have about 4 to 10 percent of the daily recommended intake of calcium. Blue cheese and parmesan, on the other hand, can provide 33 and 34 percent of the daily recommended intake, respectively.

Furthermore, parmesan, along with goat cheese, is very low in lactose as it is aged for a long time. People who are lactose-intolerant might have a better digestive reaction after eating this cheese type.

With the various types of cheese all over the world, selecting the cheese type that is right for one’s body is still the best way to truly optimize this dairy’s health benefits.

Learn more about the benefits of cheese at

Sources include:

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