New research suggests that a higher intake of low-fat dairy may be beneficial for heart health. The George Institute for Global Health study has found a link between people who have high intakes of dairy fat and a lower risk of cardiovascular disease. Higher consumption of dairy fat was also found not to be associated with an increased risk of death.
Researchers combined the results of this new study with 17 similar studies from other countries, creating the most comprehensive evidence on the relationship between heart health, death, and dairy fat.
Previously, research has relied on people recording the amount and type of dairy consumed, but this has been proven difficult since dairy is commonly used in a variety of foods. So, for this study, blood levels of certain fatty acids were measured to get a more objective measure of dairy fat intake that didn’t rely on participants’ memory.
The participants of this international collaboration between researchers in Sweden, the US, and Australia were followed up for an average of 16 years to determine how many had heart attacks, strokes, or other serious circulatory events. Any deaths from this time period were also recorded.
After adjusting for any known cardiovascular disease risk factors, including age, income, dietary habits, lifestyle, and other diseases, researchers found that the risk for cardiovascular disease was the lowest for those with high levels of fatty acid (reflecting high intake of dairy fats). Participants with the highest levels of fatty acid also had no increased risk of death from any cause.
Part of a Healthy Diet
Study author Dr. Matti Marklund said, “While some dietary guidelines continue to suggest consumers choose low-fat dairy products, others have moved away from that advice, instead suggesting dairy can be part of a healthy diet with an emphasis on selecting certain dairy foods — for example, yogurt rather than butter — or avoiding sweetened dairy products that are loaded with added sugar.”
Increasing evidence suggests that dairy foods’ health impact may depend more on the type such as cheese, yogurt, butter, and milk. As each product has different fat content, not all are created equal.
Researchers believe that cutting down on dairy fat or avoiding it altogether may not be the best choice for heart health. Although some dairy foods can be rich in saturated fat, they are also rich in many other nutrients and can be part of a healthy diet.