Here's a good reason to eat more cheese.

If you can't pass up cheese plates at parties, you don't have to feel guilty any longer. A new study in the Journal of Nutrition suggests cheese might help offset blood vessel damage that is caused by a high-salt diet.

Researchers at Penn State found that the antioxidants in cheese may counteract potential damage caused by salt. During the randomized trial, study participants who ate a high-sodium diet and four servings of cheese a day did not experience blood vessel dysfunction, but participants who ate a high-sodium diet without cheese did.

Cheese Plate
Photo by Meredith

The study was small — only 11 participants took part — and the study timeframe was short. Each participant followed one diet — a high-salt, no-dairy diet; a high-salt diet with dairy; a low-salt, no-dairy diet; or a low-salt diet with dairy — for just eight days. Low-salt diets were topped at 1,500 milligrams of sodium; high-salt diets were 5,500 milligrams.

At the end of the study, each participant was given a small amount of a drug that signals blood vessels to relax. Participants who had eaten the high-salt diet without dairy did not respond well to the medicine and showed less blood vessel relaxation. But these results were not seen in participants who ate a high-sodium diet with the daily cheese servings.

"While there's a big push to reduce dietary sodium, for a lot of people it's difficult," Billie Alba, the lead researcher of the study, said in a statement. "Possibly being able to incorporate more dairy products, like cheese, could be an alternative strategy to reduce cardiovascular risk and improve vessel health without necessarily reducing total sodium."

Adding cheese not only makes the dish tastier, but also it may help lower the side effects of too much salt. Alba explained that more research is needed to reveal which properties are at play here, to see if the effects are caused by any one specific nutrient in cheese.

The bottom line: This study has some significant limits — the small sample size and short timeframe, for example — but it poses an interesting question for future research. And while you shouldn't eat a high-sodium diet (and this study's findings certainly aren't license to do that), cheese may have more benefits for health than just making taste buds happy.