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How Eating Cheese Could Prevent Weight Gain and Protect Your Heart

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Cheese is a common ingredient in comfort foods everywhere, and with good reason—it's melty, gooey, and delicious, adding something to a dish that no other food can. Unfortunately, you don't expect to see fondue top the list of nutritionists' picks for healthy foods, which can lead many healthy, fitness-minded people to ditch their favorite fromage. But wait! There's good news for you cheese lovers (you know, everyone): According to a new study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, cheese is not a nutritional no-no after all.

Researchers gathered results from nearly 140 adults who participated in and completed their 12-week cheese test (lucky them!). To take a deeper look at how full-fat cheese affects people differently, the subjects were divided into three groups. The first lucky group ate 80g (about 3 servings) of regular, high-fat cheese every day. The second group ate the same amount of reduced-fat cheese. And the third group didn't eat cheese at all and instead focused on straight carbs in the form of bread with jam. At first glance, you might assume that eating three servings of cheese every day would spell diet and health disaster, with clogged arteries and skyrocketing cholesterol. But researchers found exactly the opposite to be true.

The regular-fat cheese eaters did not experience any change in their LDL (or "bad") cholesterol. Nor did that group see an increase in insulin, blood sugar, or triglyceride levels. Their blood pressure and waist circumference remained the same. The fact that eating fat didn't make them, well, fat, isn't totally surprising in light of the recent research showing that fats have been unfairly demonized. (Not to mention how the sugar industry actually paid researchers to make us hate fat instead of sugars.)

What is surprising, however, is how eating the cheese helped improve the subjects' health by increasing their levels of HDL (or "good") cholesterol. Similar to previous research that found drinking whole milk is better for your health than drinking skim, this study found that not only did eating full-fat cheese not hurt their hearts but it seemed to provide some protection from cardiovascular disease and metabolic disease, two of the biggest killers of women in the U.S., according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The bread and jam eaters, on the other hand, experienced no such benefit.

Cheese is still high in calories so moderation is key, but it's safe to say that you can enjoy a few slices of your favorite cheddar or grate some Asiago onto your salad entirely guilt-free—munch on it with some whole-wheat crackers and a slice of turkey for a balance snack of protein, fats, and carbs. Plus, you can offically say buh-bye to those nasty plasticky fat-free cheeses once and for all. Enjoy the real deal!

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