A new study by scientists has found that full-fat cheddar cheese does not raise total blood cholesterol.

The researchers say the findings mean those who had previously been told not to eat cheddar in order to reduce their cholesterol may be able to eat it again.

Cheddar accounts for more than half the cheese sold in the Irish market, with €108 million spent on it in last year.

But the full-fat version of the popular dairy product has long been associated with high blood cholesterol, forcing it off the menu of many consumers trying to keep levels under control.

A study of 127 people with elevated cholesterol by Food For Health Ireland (FHI) scientists at University College Dublin has, however, challenged this view.

It found when Irish full-fat cheddar cheese was consumed for six weeks, it led to more of a reduction in blood cholesterol levels than when other forms of fat were eaten.

The researchers found other people who ate equivalent amounts of fat in either reduced-fat cheese and butter, or butter plus other sources of protein and calcium equivalent to cheddar, also saw their cholesterol drop, but not by the same amount.

The scientists cannot say for sure that full-fat cheddar reduces cholesterol, but do state that it does not increase it.

They say it appears the effect of cheese on cholesterol is greater when all of the fat is consumed in the form of full-fat cheddar cheese.

This is likely the result of an additive effect of the nutrients contained within the structure of the cheese, they say, that is over and above that seen when the nutrients are consumed separately.

"This is an exciting result that demonstrates the importance of what has become to be known as the 'food matrix' whereby you consider the food source of nutrients (the 'matrix') rather than simply nutrients alone," said Dr Emma Feeney, Principal scientist conducting the study.

"Our next steps in this area are to explore the ideal amounts of cheese required to generate these results."

The team is also exploring whether cooking cheese changes the properties and what exactly is causing the effects.

Jens Bleiel, the chief executive of FHI, said the findings could be important for older people, who often have elevated cholesterol levels but need to increase their intake of calcium and enjoy eating cheese.

The study is published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.