Though they are catching up nicely in obesity and heart disease rates now, historically the French have been something of a paradox; they drink a lot of booze, they eat a lot of cheese and they don't exercise, but they had lower cardiovascular disease rates than other countries despite all that. 

While nutritionists claimed dairy was making American people fat - it must be bad for our hearts because epidemiological papers put a curve of saturated fats next to a curve of heart disease - the French Paradox was quietly studied with much less mainstream media attention. Like with BPA, GMOs, vaccines, nuclear power, and human embryonic stem cells, the debate over saturated fats was more cultural than evidence-based, all the more reason for science to get involved.

If saturated fats were bad, did all of the alcohol offset the cheese in French people? A whole swath of researchers chased after ways to map compounds in wine to this new cultural topology but those are epidemiology curves too. Glaxo certainly wishes they had that $720 million they spent on resveratrol back.

A new study has found it may not be wine or smoking or having a mistress that kept French hearts healthy, it may be how cheese is digested:

Credit: DOI: 10.1021/jf505878a

Urine and fecal samples from healthy men who consumed cheese/milk or ate a control diet with butter but no other dairy products showed that those who ate cheese had lower urinary citrate and creatinine levels and higher fecal levels of butyrate and short-chain fatty acids. Elevated butyrate levels were linked to a reduction in cholesterol. 

The problem? This was a small study, and it is metabolomics, the most hyped of the over-hyped "omics" craze, so the authors want to make the case for gut microbes being the key to the French paradox. The microbiome is as over-hyped as the case against cheese ever was, as all those commercials touting probiotics show us.

But since elevated butyrate levels are linked to a reduction in cholesterol it merits investigation. In the meantime, it is okay to eat cheese and butter again. Just don't go crazy with it.

Look for sugar and wheat to be rehabilitated in similar fashion a few years from now.

Citation: Hong Zheng, Christian C. Yde, Morten R. Clausen, Mette Kristensen, Janne Lorenzen, Arne Astrup, and Hanne C. Bertram, 'Metabolomics Investigation To Shed Light on Cheese as a Possible Piece in the French Paradox Puzzle', J. Agric. Food Chem., 2015, 63 (10), pp 2830–2839
DOI: 10.1021/jf505878a