Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), both a cis and trans fatty acid, has been proven to be a beneficial, yet lacking staple in our diets. Fatty acids such as Omega 3s, Omega 6s and linoleic acid are the building blocks of all fats. Essential fatty acids like CLA are not produced by the human body, and therefore need to be consumed as part of a healthy diet. Foods with the highest naturally occurring levels of CLA are whole milk and whole milk dairy products, and beef, lamb, and goat.
In its natural form, found in nature, CLA does not have any known negative side effects. Once abundant in our diets, CLA intake has been on the decline. This is largely in part due to lesser consumption of meats and animal fats. Additionally, most animals today are fed more grain than grass, therefore reducing the CLA levels in meat and dairy products. Meat and milk products from animals fed exclusively on pasture can contain 3-5 times more CLA than grain fed animals. (New research shows that cows that graze at relatively high altitudes may produce the healthiest milk of all.)
In laboratory research on animals, CLA has been shown to fight some types of cancer. While human CLA research is in its infancy, it has largely focused on reducing body fat.
What cheese to choose?
With grass-fed cheese, you get a considerably higher concentration of every vitamin - as well as omega-3, fatty acids, beta-carotene and vitamin E - in every bite.
French cheeses are especially high in cancer-fighting CLA. According to a 1998 survey, CLA levels in French cheese ranged from 5.3 to 15.8 mg/g of fat. American cheese from conventional dairies has half this amount, with levels ranging from 2.9 to 7.1. The reason? American dairies typically raise their cows in confinement and feed them a grain-based diet. French dairies are more likely to raise their cows at pasture, resulting in naturally high levels of CLA
The cheese-making process itself can increase or decrease the amount of CLA. In a comprehensive survey, the highest amounts of CLA were found in soft cheeses aged approximately three months. Longer aging periods reduced this highly desirable fat.
So if you're wondering about the health benefits of CLA, it's A-OK.