The matrix effect: The surprising science of how cheese impacts your heart health
Your stomach is likely to tell you when you have reached peak cheese, but is there an exact measure of how much is too much?
Cheese is packed with healthy protein and calcium but is also high in saturated fat and salt. According to the British Heart Foundation, a 30g portion of Cheddar can contain more salt than a packet of crisps.
High levels of saturated fat generally drive up cholesterol and increase the risk of developing cardiovascular disease. However, there is growing evidence that cheese has a ‘matrix effect’ that protects us somewhat from the adverse effects of saturated fat.
Most cheeses are prepared using an enzyme called chymosin to coagulate milk. Some fresh cheeses, like cottage cheese, are made using acid. Others, such as paneer, use a combination of heat and acid. How the cheese has been made will affect how your body digests it.
A Canadian study in 2017 on 43 healthy volunteers showed that fat from cream cheese was more rapidly digested and absorbed than from Cheddar. The researchers suggested that the small fat droplets in the cream cheese may be more accessible to the body’s fat-digesting enzymes.
In 2018, a separate study run by a team at University College Dublin found that consuming cheese gave rise to significantly lower cholesterol levels than when its components were eaten separately as butter, protein and calcium. So let the matrix effect be your excuse to indulge.
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Asked by: Agnes Cunningham, Fife
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Dr Emma Davies is a science writer and editor with a PhD in food chemistry from the University of Leeds. She writes about all aspects of chemistry, from food and the environment to toxicology and regulatory science.
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