Full-fat dairy could help heart health
Fears that full-fat dairy products can increase cardiovascular risk have been challenged by a new study which found whole dairy products may actually help prevent severe strokes.
Dairy products such as milk, cheese and butter contain saturated fat, and consuming too much of this is associated with heart disease and stroke, the biggest killers in the US. But researchers from the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) suggested that diet advice that encourages swapping out whole dairy products for fat-free alternatives should be ignored, as their research found no significant link between dairy fats and cause of death.
“In addition to not contributing to death, the results suggest that one fatty acid present in dairy may lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease, particularly from stroke,” said Marcia Otto, the study’s first author and assistant professor in the Department of Epidemiology, Human Genetics and Environmental Sciences at UTHealth.
Over a 22-year period, the study evaluated how multiple biomarkers of fatty acid present in dairy fat related to heart disease and all-cause mortality in nearly 3000 adults aged 65 years and older. The researchers measured plasma levels of three different fatty acids found in dairy products at the beginning in 1992 and again six and 13 years later.
Not only did they find no significant associations between the fatty acid types and total mortality, but one type was linked to lower cardiovascular disease deaths. People with higher fatty acid levels, suggesting higher consumption of whole-fat dairy products, had a 42% lower risk of dying from stroke.
Otto warned against replacing full-fat dairy products with fat-free ones, as recommended by the 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Full-fat dairy products have a number of important nutrients, while low-fat foods such as yoghurt and chocolate milk contain high amounts of added sugars which may lead to poor cardiovascular health.
“Consistent with previous findings, our results highlight the need to revisit current dietary guidance on whole-fat dairy foods, which are rich sources of nutrients such as calcium and potassium. These are essential for health not only during childhood but throughout life, particularly also in later years when undernourishment and conditions like osteoporosis are more common,” Otto said.
She said that there is a lot of conflicting information about nutrition, particularly fats, which can confuse consumers. Instead, she suggested evidence-based research can provide factual information to educate people.
The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health and published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
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