British retailer Tesco this week launched 'A Healthy Alternative to Cheese', targeted at the 2 million UK consumers with high cholesterol levels. The product, made by a farm in the south-west of England, contains phytosterols from vegetable oil, which act to reduce the amount of cholesterol in the blood.
In a study on the product carried out at the Rowett Institute in Aberdeen, Scotland, one person who ate a small amount of the cheese alternative each day saw cholesterol levels fall by over 20 per cent in just three weeks, claimed the retailer, and almost all others experienced reduced cholesterol.
Dr Steven May from Angel Technologies who developed the product, said: "The results are in line with those seen for products like Flora Pro-activ [from Unilever]."
While there are already many spreads, yoghurts and soft cheese on the UK market purporting to lower cholesterol, this is the first product resembling a hard cheese like cheddar which is said to improve heart health.
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. Not only can they satisfy their tastebuds by eating this product but they should see a significant drop in their cholesterol as a result."
He continued: "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 here is that it actually is really good for you."
The patented product - called 'A Healthy Alternative to Cheese' - is made with milk which has had the dairy fat removed and replaced with a wheatgerm oil blend, high in plant sterols. These plant sterols act to block off special receptor sites, preventing cholesterol from getting into the blood stream.
Professor Nigel Slater of the Chemical Engineering department of Cambridge University, who pioneered the method, said: "We were approached to make a cheese product that was low in cholesterol and high in polyunsaturates. It was vital that we used existing processes and natural ingredients, worked into a traditional West Country recipe, to ensure cheese fans with high cholesterol got the alternative they were looking for."
The average person would need to eat 65g, a handful of grated cheese, each day to obtain a 10-13 per cent reduction in cholesterol.
"The great thing about this product is that, unlike with cholesterol-lowering margarines, it is easy to eat the recommended daily allowance by including it in just one main meal each day," added Seymour.
The cheese alternative is being made by a cheesemaker in the traditional manufacturing always used to make cheddar cheese, which accounts for 60 per cent of the British cheese market.
Six hundred Tesco stores now stock 'A Healthy Alternative to Cheese'. It costs £1.79 for 200g, about the same price as a good quality traditional cheddar, says Tesco.
Full results on the product trials are to be presented at the Helsinki conference on obesity in June.