Every time you take a step you put a force equal to at least 1.5 times your body weight on your knees. That relentless strain takes a toll and can over time lead to painful osteoarthritis (OA).

Since keeping your weight down is one of the best ways to take some pressure off your lower extremities and prevent OA, it might seem strange to learn that a favorited high-fat food — cheese — might also help keep OA at bay.

But that’s exactly what a recent study, published in the European Journal of Nutrition, has suggested: Researchers concluded that people who ate the most full-fat cheese were the least likely to develop knee OA.

Those with the highest intake of cheese, especially Dutch cheese, were about 30 percent less likely to have knee OA. Interestingly, no such link was found with such other dairy sources as milk, yogurt, or low-fat cheese.

But before you use this as justification to gorge on full-fat cheese, there are a few important caveats you should understand.

First, this study was an observational one, which means that the authors found a connection between full-fat cheese consumption and a lower risk of OA. They did not determine that eating full-fat cheese is actually what’s responsible for protecting the knee joints, so other factors could be involved.

Also important: This study was limited to the Netherlands, where (not surprisingly) Dutch cheeses like Gouda and Edam are popular. As the study authors note, “nutritional characteristics of cheese depend on the cheese-making process.” While all cheese is a good source of calcium, some types of cheese supply more bone-building nutrients like phosphorus, magnesium, zinc, and vitamin K.

The fact that very different cheeses, like cheddar and mozzarella, are most popular in the U.S. might explain why this research contradicts earlier studies on cheese and OA risk that focused on Americans. Genetic and lifestyle factors — the Dutch are avid bike riders — might also play a role.

Bottom line: If you’re an American who likes full-fat cheese and can work it into an overall healthy diet, that’s fine. But don’t bank on it protecting your knees.

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