It sounds like a contradiction in terms – a cheese that actually lowers your cholesterol level.
But scientists have managed to produce a product in which dairy fats – which can raise blood cholesterol – have been replaced with vegetable oils containing natural substances that reduce it.
It then took them three years to get the finished product to look and taste like the real thing.
Professor Nigel Slater of Cambridge University, who carried out the research, says the finished product – made by supermarket giant Tesco – is indistinguishable from hard cheeses containing animal fat.
He said: ‘We now have a cheese that not only has no cholesterol but has something that helps to reduce cholesterol in the blood.’
Instead of animal fat, the cheese contains wheatgerm oil high in sterols – a natural cholesterollowering ingredient. These block off specific receptor sites in the body and cut the amount of cholesterol entering the blood stream.
It is aimed at the two million Britons with high cholesterol levels, but can be eaten by anyone.
High cholesterol levels have been linked to heart disease and are pushed up by fatty diets, smoking, high blood pressure, lack of exercise, being overweight and stress.
Fat-busting margarines containing plant sterols are already available in Britain. They include Benecol and Flora pro.activ. Studies have shown these margarines can cut levels of dangerous fats by up to 15 per cent. Soft cheese spreads containing sterols are also on sale.
High levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol, called LDL, increase the risk of heart disease by helping to fur up blood vessels in the artery walls.
But improving the ratio of good and bad blood fats by changing the diet or using drugs has been shown to cut the risk of heart disease, which kills 140,000 people a year in the UK.
Although low fat hard cheeses are available, many consumers complain they are tasteless.
In a study carried out by the Rowett Institute in Aberdeen, testers who ate a small amount of the product each day saw their cholesterol levels fall in just three weeks – in one case by up to 20 per cent.
Tesco cheese expert Michael Seymour said: ‘This seems to be the answer for people who love hard
cheese but need to keep an eye on their cholesterol levels.’
He added: ‘This product is to all intents and purposes the same as a normal cheddar. You can eat it in the same way – on crackers or grated on a baked potato – but the benefit is that it actually is really good for you.’
The mild-flavoured patented product cannot officially be described as a cheese because, under food labelling laws, cheeses can only contain milk products and rennet. It has therefore been named: ‘A healthier alternative to cheddar.’
Made in an almost identical way to traditional cheese, it is sold at 600 of Tesco’s 720 stores at £1.79 for 200g.