Tooth Decay Finally, it has been recognized for decades that eating cheese slows tooth decay, which is caused by acid secretion from relatives of yogurt bacterium (especially Streptococcus mutans) that adhere to the teeth. Just why is still not entirely clear, but it appears that eaten at the end of a meal, when streptococcal acid production is on the rise, calcium and phosphate from the cheese diffuse into the bacterial colonies and blunt the acid rise.OK, so that's super interesting, and not something that I've ever heard about cheese (heard it about apples, though I've always been skeptical of that claim because they're mostly made of sugar). Michael Pollan and others have focused on the underlying health benefits of long-practiced culinary traditions, so perhaps this outcome might help explain why cheese is sometimes served after dinner.
But then elsewhere in the section, McGee cautions that cheese is:
"abundant [in] saturated fat and therefore tends to raise blood cholesterol levels. However, France and Greece lead the world in per capita cheese consumption... yet they're remarkable among Western countries for their relatively low rates of heart disease, probably thanks to their high consumption of heart-protective vegetables, fruits, and wine."Emphasis is mine. Is his causal arrow pointed in the right direction? When it comes to human health, it's always hard to say, but I wonder if the low rates of heart disease are not in spite of the cheese, but because of it (at least in part).
Stephen Guyenet recently suggested that pastured dairy products may be good for the heart, possibly because of high concentrations of K2, CLA, vitamin A, or even certain kinds of saturated fats. Guyenet doesn't mention bacteria, but if it's good for dental health, as McGee documents, might it contribute to gut or heart health as well? (See Seth Roberts's "umami hypothesis" posts for more thoughts on good bacteria and health).
Here are entries by Guyenet that touch on cheese consumption. He notes in one of the posts:
Contrary to popular belief, full-fat dairy, including milk, butter and cheese, has never been convincingly linked to cardiovascular disease. In fact, it has rather consistently been linked to a lower risk, particularly for stroke.So there's that--the comments on his blog, including his own, are always worth reading.
I'm not a nutritionist, but Guyenet is probably the best writer on the subject that I've encountered. He might also be a good example of an "insider/outsider."