Eating Dairy Fat May Not Be as Harmful to Heart Health as We Think, Say Researchers
Dairy fat might not be nearly as bad for heart health as you’d think, according to a Swedish study that involved over 4,000 adults — in addition to incorporating the findings from 17 similar studies in other countries. Altogether, the database includes 43,000 participants from different parts of Europe and the U.S.
Published in PLOS Medicine, the meta-analysis was touted as “the most comprehensive evidence to date on the relationship between… dairy fat consumption, risk of cardiovascular disease, and death,” according to Medical Xpress.
The study found that individuals’ highest levels of dairy fat consumption were linked to the lowest risk of cardiovascular disease, compared with low intake. Contrary to popular belief and past research, the study also found that a higher dairy fat intake didn’t put people at an increased risk of death.
Interestingly, the present study also used a unique approach to measure the participants’ dairy fat intake. “Many studies have relied on people being able to remember and record the amounts and types of dairy foods they’ve eaten, which is especially difficult given that dairy is commonly used in a variety of foods. Instead, we measured blood levels of certain fatty acids that are found in dairy foods, which gives a more objective measure of dairy fat intake that doesn’t rely on memory or the quality of food databases,” Matti Marklund the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, who co-authored the study, explained.
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Science has been conflicted for a long time on whether or not the consumption of dairy fat puts people at risk for life-threatening health conditions. A 2018 report linked higher consumption of dairy products to a lower risk of premature death from “cerebrovascular causes” like stroke. The very next year, another study noted that “two servings per day of dairy consumption were associated with the lowest cardiovascular mortality, but higher intake was associated with a slightly higher mortality, especially cancer mortality.”
Could the vast range of dairy products have widely different impacts on individuals consuming them? Perhaps, researchers think. “Increasing evidence suggests that the health impact of dairy foods may be more dependent on the type — such as cheese, yogurt, milk, and butter — rather than the fat content, which has raised doubts if avoidance of dairy fats overall is beneficial for cardiovascular health,” lead author of the study, Kathy Trieu from The George Institute for Global Health, said in a statement.
The researchers of the present publication are aware that their findings heavily contrast previous studies on the subject. While they don’t think it makes their results any less valid, especially given the large dataset involved, they believe further research is required to gain deeper insights into the link between dairy fat consumption and heart health. “These relationships are highly interesting, but we need further studies to better understand the full health impact of dairy fats and dairy foods,” Marklund said.
In the meantime, the biggest takeaway for the researchers appears to be that dairy fat, in general, might not be as bad as it’s made out to be. “Our study suggests that cutting down on dairy fat or avoiding dairy altogether might not be the best choice for heart health… It is important to remember that although dairy foods can be rich in saturated fat, they are also rich in many other nutrients and can be a part of a healthy diet,” Trieu notes.