A new study at the University of Wisconsin's Food Research Institute shows that conjugated linoleic acid helps keep laboratory rats from getting stomach cancer.
Rich in this miracle chemical are ground beef and cheese, the researchers say. That spells cheeseburger to any junk food connoisseur worth his cholesterol count.
And the study shows that Cheez Whiz is at the top of the conjugated
linoleic acid hit parade, far outdistancing its nearest competitor, which is grilled ground beef.
The surprising finding was reported yesterday at a science writers' seminar sponsored by the American Cancer Society, one of the groups that has urged cutbacks in consumption of beef.
Dr. Michael Pariza, director of the Wisconsin institute, sees nothing sinister in the fact that Wisconsin is one of the nation's leading producers of cheese and that part of his research effort was paid for by the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board.
He said the board paid for about a third of his lab's costs, but only during the last two years of a 10-year research project.
Herb Olivieri, whose customers at his two Pat's Steaks outlets and three other eateries in the city, have a choice of Cheez Whiz and other cheese toppings on their steak sandwiches, hailed the new findings.
"It sounds great!" he cried.
Olivieri never heard of conjugated linoleic acid, but he knows all about Cheez Whiz, which he considers a noble product. With no prompting at all, he recited all of the ingredients of Cheez Whiz to a reporter over the phone. Conjugated linoleic acid was not among them, but whoever makes up the labels wouldn't have caught up with this substance yet.
Pariza says Cheez Whiz is high in CLA because one of its main ingredients is whey, the thin watery part of milk. "Whey is an important part of that product's recipe, and it generates CLA by interacting with other fats and acids in the recipe," Pariza said.
Also in the top 10 of CLA products are all kinds of other cheeses - parmesan, cheddar, romano, cream and blue.
So, should you grab the crackers and cheese to fight cancer?
Not necessarily, said Pariza.
"I'm not even close to ready to say how people should get CLA - whether by pill or their diet," he said. "But I think there's a tendency for health diets to be overblown. I think you can eat any food you want as long as you eat it in moderation. You don't need to be a martyr to enjoy the benefits of healthy eating."
Dr. Vincent T. DeVita, physician in chief at New York's Memorial Sloan- Kettering Cancer Center, commented, "I believe that if you eat a high- fiber, low-fat diet, the health benefits far outweigh the benefits of any CLA you can get through eating a lot of beef and cheese."