Cheese lovers, rejoice! A new study funded by Dairy Management Inc. has linked consuming dairy cheese with protecting against some of sodium’s effects on the cardiovascular system. The research team theorized that this protection is a side effect of the antioxidant properties of cheese's dairy proteins.

For the study, researchers compared participants’ side effects after eating dairy cheese, pretzels or soy cheese on five separate occasions, three days apart. Then, the team examined the effects of each food on the cardiovascular system using a laser-Doppler, which shines a weak laser light onto the skin so researchers could measure how much blood vessels had dilated.

“This is a novel finding that may have implications for dietary recommendations. Newer dietary recommendations suggest limiting sodium, but our data suggest that eating sodium in the form of a dairy product, such as cheese, may be protective,” co-lead researcher Lacy Alexander said in a press release from Pennsylvania State University.

“We are already aware that at the population level, people who eat more dairy typically have lower blood pressure,” Alexander explained.

Researchers set out to examine the effect of short-term dairy cheese consumption and understand how it compares to sodium consumption from non-dairy sources, like soy.

“We found that when our subjects 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,” said Anna Stanhewicz, co-investigator and postdoctoral fellow in the Center for Healthy Aging.

“We know that more red blood cells means more blood flow and more dilation. We observed that subjects had more nitric oxide-moderated dilation after eating dairy cheese, compared to after eating pretzels or soy cheese.”

Don't go crazy with the cheese just yet, however. Over the long term, studies have found that diets high in saturated fat and cholesterol, such as what's found in cheese, can harm the cardiovascular system. Moderation, particularly for harder cheeses such as cheddar, is still advised, the American Heart Association notes.

Source: Stanhewicz AE, Alba BK, Kenney WL, Alexander LA. Dairy cheese consumption ameliorates single-meal sodium-induced cutaneous microvascular dysfunction by reducing ascorbate-sensitive oxidants in healthy older adults. British Journal of Nutrition. 2016.

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