Is Cheese a Superfood?
A recent study conducted by scientists in South Korea has been making waves across the internet through click-baiting headlines in which cheese, specifically Emmentaler, is being called a "superfood." But what are the dangers of using buzzwords such as "superfood" in this sense? It goes without saying that we love cheese, especially raw milk cheeses such as Emmentaler, however with this being a relatively new study we are hesitant to jump to the conclusion of labeling cheese in general as a "superfood."
We have long been proponents of the probiotic properties of raw milk cheeses, specifically dairy propionibacterium such as Propionibacterium freudenreichii. These propionibacterium are a major focus of this study, which the conclusions of have sparked the viral headline barrage.
First of all, what is Propionibacterium freudenreichii?
P. freudenreichii is one of four species of dairy propionibacteria. These propionibacteria are used in ripening cultures during cheesemaking. They are associated with the forming of "eyes" or the holes in cheeses. These "eyes" form as the propionibacteria ferments the lactic acid produced by cheesemaking starter cultures. This process produces carbon dioxide as a by-product which in turn creates the "eyes."
There is a promising conclusion to this survey: worms who were given feed containing Propionibacterium freudenreichii were observed to have a longer lifespan than worms given feed containing Escherichia coli OP50 (which is a standard worm feed), while also exhibiting an increased resistance to Salmonella typhimurium. So with these promising results why shouldn't we, especially advocates of raw milk cheese, jump to conclusions about the results of this survey?
Despite these promising results, it is important to remember that the longer lifespan properties shown in the worms used in this study have not been evaluated in human as of yet. So while we are very excited about the potential future research that could come from this survey and continuing research into the benefits of raw milk cheeses, we do feel it is important to appreciate the probiotic properties of these bacterium in the delicious raw milk cheeses we know and love without mislabeling them as "superfoods" and falling victim to the ever increasing amount of food trends and hysteria that still need further research and evaluation!
In 2015, we hosted an academic conference in Boston to find consensus amongst food scientist and advocates on health and nutrition science. From that opportunity we created a Consensus Statement on Healthy Eating with the support of many prominent nutrition experts. We also came up with 6 Tips for Checking if a Website is Reliable and 11 Tips for Reading a Scientific Study. We used these guides to read this South Korean study and to look at the coverage it has generated. We hope you too will exercise caution when sharing news about "to good to be true" studies. Cheese is a complete food, we don't need to over hype it. We should enjoy it in moderation as part of a healthy diet and habitual exercise.
Daniel McElligott - Oldways Cheese Coalition Research Associate