Dairy foods are most often prized for their calcium content, but new research reveals that changes to the gut microbiome, especially from eating fermented dairy products, like cheese, might help explain the “French Paradox,” the phenomenon in which traditional cheeses are linked with low rates of heart disease. In a small study to investigate the protective effect of dairy foods, Danish scientists randomly assigned 15 healthy men to one of three diets for two weeks: a diet with lots of partly skim (1.5%) milk, a diet with lots of semi-hard cow’s cheese, or a control diet with butter, but no other dairy products. Both the milk and cheese diets had the same amount of calcium per day (1.7g). The men rotated through each diet, with a two-week washout period in between each new diet group. Compared to the control diet, both the cheese and milk diets were associated with significantly lower production of TMAO, a compound that is thought to be a marker of heart disease risk. The researchers also found that “dairy consumption, especially cheese, can beneficially modify the gut microbiota to increase SFCA levels.” SFCAs (short chain fatty acids) are compounds produced by gut bacteria that are linked with many health promoting effects, such as lower risk of diabetes, heart disease, and inflammatory diseases.
Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. 2015 Mar 18;63(10):2830-9 (Zheng H et al).