Wine, cheese, and the French Paradox in Walla Walla

I enjoyed participating in the recent Wine BloggersConference in Walla Walla, where I gave a talk on

wine and health, and I have been looking for a way to tie it all together. Since I write about wine and health, I’m in a niche slot. I don’t review wines, like most bloggers at the conference, and I don’t write about lifestyle per se. But I believe I have found the link, albeit unexpectedly, in the Wine and Cheese Pairing with Cheeses of Europe session! The “Cheese Twins” gave a dynamic and entertaining presentation but usually I think of cheese in the same category as wine and alcohol: Justifiable indulgences but not what most would consider health food. Then I remembered a paper from a few years ago that suggested that cheese, not wine, may actually be the basis of the French Paradox.

How cheese might explain the French Paradox

    Here’s the idea, as proposed by in a 2012 publication[i]in the journal Medical Hypotheses:  The French Paradox is distinctly French, with the link to red wine less prominent in other parts of the world. There was the idea that it was attributable to resveratrol, wine’s miracle molecule, but there isn’t enough resveratrol in wine to fully explain why the French get away with their high fat diet. Cheese, being another prominent component of the French diet, needs to at least be accounted for.     Then research began to come out revealing that cheese, especially of the molded varieties, actually has positive effects on cholesterol metabolism, lipid profile, and “inflammatory status.” Evidence showed that these benefits may be due to certain peptides (protein fragments) that occur in higher amounts in molded cheeses such as Roquefort.  (One of these peptides is called roquefortine.) Yes, it appears that cheese may actually be heart-healthy, despite packing doses of salt and triple cream well beyond the usual recommended limits.
    To be fair, the research on cheese as a potentially heart-healthy dietary constituent is in its infancy, while scientific literature on wine and health is massive. There is a recent prospective multinational study[ii]finding dairy intake linked to better heart health, but the correlation was stronger for milk and yogurt than for cheese. On the other hand, a meta-analysis of 29 different studies found a positive relationship to heart health only for fermented dairy such as cheese and yogurt, not total dairy intake.[iii]
It’s also worth noting that the authors of the Medical Hypothesis paper are from a supplement manufacturer, not an academic research lab. In the end, I think it’s most likely that the French Paradox results from a combination of the way that wine, other dietary constituents, and mealtime habits are ingrained in the traditional French way of living. Wine consumption in France, at least when the Paradox came to light, was regular and consistent, just as cheese is a routine course at the end of a meal. We would expect the effect to be less obvious in other cultures, especially where wine is not made or the climate not suitable for dairy production. Sadly, the paradox is diminishing even in France as drinking habits go global.
     So while the cheese twins might be a notable pair of heartthrobs, on the question of heart health it’s wine and cheese that made a beautiful twosome in Walla Walla.

[i] Petyaev IM, Bashmakov YK. Could cheese be the missing piece in the French paradox puzzle? Med Hypotheses 2012 Dec;79(6):746-9. 2012 Sep 13.
[ii] PURE study investigators.  Association of dairy intake with cardiovascular disease and mortality in 21 countries from five continents (PURE): a prospective cohort study. Lancet. 2018 Sep 11. pii: S0140-6736(18)31812-9.
[iii]Guo J, Astrup A, Lovegrove JA, Gijsbers L, Givens DI, Soedamah-Muthu SS. Milk and dairy consumption and risk of cardiovascular diseases and all-cause mortality: dose-response meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies.
Eur J Epidemiol. 2017 Apr;32(4):269-287.

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