Do you love cheese? Whether it’s a creamy slice of American cheese melting on top of your burger or a salty Pecorino Romano freshly grated over your favorite pasta, cheese adds a lot of flavor to any dish. For a long time, though, cheese has been seen as a fattening, unhealthy ingredient. But one study in particular had some surprising findings on a possible benefit.

The New Study

According to a recent decade-long study, cheese was found to protect from total mortality, also known as death of all causes. The study was led by Dr. Maciej Banach of the Medical University of Lodz, Poland, and analyzed data from the 1999-2010 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which is produced by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The study found that eating any kind of dairy was tied to a two percent lower rate of total mortality. This study also found a four percent lower rate of stroke from dairy intake, along with a seven percent lower rate for stroke with milk alone. It was cheese that reigned supreme, though. Diets where most of the dairy intake is cheese saw an eight percent decrease in total mortality risk.

The study found that eating any kind of dairy was tied to a two percent lower rate of total mortality.

This isn’t to say that we should all start gorging on cheese and dairy. While the findings of the study are promising and beneficial, maintaining a balanced diet is still important. Remember, cheese and dairy are still legitimately fattening if eaten to excess. Becoming overweight can counteract any of the benefits you would have gained by ingesting cheese.

The Growing Body of Evidence

These findings are in line with other studies that have pointed toward cheese being healthier than we have long thought. One 2017 study concluded that there was no increased risk of total mortality through long-term cheese consumption. Another prominent study from 2018 backed up these findings, specifying that there’s no link between dairy and heart disease. Furthermore, an op-ed article with the European Society of Cardiology asserted the many health benefits of dairy intake, in this case with a more global focus. While there’s been a rash of evidence to the contrary lately, the common wisdom remains that cheese and dairy are unhealthy, but why is this?

Many of these misconceptions are the result of our misunderstanding of fat and how it relates to weight and health.

Many of these misconceptions are the result of our misunderstanding of fat and how it relates to weight and health. We’ve covered this previously in Why Sugar, Not Fat, is the Enemy of Your Diet, but studies have taken it even further. For example, the 2018 American Journal of Clinical Nutrition study takes great pains to point out that dairy fat “does not increase risk of heart disease or overall mortality in older adults.”

Rethinking Old Logic

This is all emblematic of how understandings of dietary health changes over time. Another study that goes into the “cheese is healthy for you” pile also found red meat can be good for your heart. This flew in the face of what seemed like a medical consensus that the high level of saturated fat in red meat is terrible for your heart. Contradictory research findings like happen all the time. Quick, tell us — are eggs healthy?

Does it mean you should just eat whatever, no matter how unhealthy, because scientists don’t know anyway?

So, does this mean that all the research in the past was all-wrong and should be ignored? Does it mean you should just eat whatever, no matter how unhealthy, because scientists don’t know anyway? Not at all. Our understanding of what’s healthy is constantly evolving.

That said, there are a few things that you can do to keep a healthy diet. Cut down on snacking, eat more fruits and vegetables, cut back on sugar, and watch your portion size. A healthy, well-proportioned diet is almost always a good idea, and a deeply personal thing. Just tweak it occasionally to reflect new findings in science, and you’ll be fine!