In recent years, health-conscious adults have turned away from dairy products, especially milk, opting instead for more plant-based alternatives. Yet, despite milk’s downward trend, yogurt and cheese remain household favorites. In fact, American cheese consumption is at an all-time high, according to Harvard Health Publishing.
Yet, shouldn’t Americans be concerned about how all that extra dairy might affect their heart health? The link between dairy fat and heart disease has health experts scratching their heads after some convincing studies.
In its current recommendation, the American Heart Association advises adults to consume two to three portions of low-fat or fat-free dairy products per day. In addition, fat-free or low-fat milk, low-fat yogurt, or low-fat cheese are considered ideal sources. Similarly, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest three servings of dairy, equal to three cups. Also, they recommend limiting saturated fat intake by choosing lower-fat dairy foods over high-fat dairy products.
Some studies, however, suggest that diets higher in dairy don’t seem to increase heart disease risk. Furthermore, it’s even being proposed that dairy foods can reduce obesity and type 2 diabetes. But before you pile on the cheese, let’s delve deeper into some of the findings that are still unclear to health experts.
New Study Sheds Some Positive Light On Dairy
Apparently, dairy fat may reduce your risk of heart disease, according to a new study published in PLOS Medicine this year. In Sweden, a country with a high dairy consumption rate, the study examined the blood samples of 4,150 people with a median age of about 60.
In addition, researchers followed the participants of the study for approximately 17 years in order to evaluate their outcomes. Researchers looked for indicators of heart disease, including a history of heart attacks, strokes, hypertension, and other related illnesses.
In their research, scientists adjusted findings to reflect age, activity levels, and diets. Despite this, they discovered surprising results. Participants who were more likely to have dairy fat in their bloodstream had a lower risk of cardiovascular disease.
After seeing the results, researchers were eager to analyze even more data. Further, they examined 18 similar studies involving about 43,000 individuals from the U.S., Denmark, and the U.K. They found comparable results in all of these studies.
In spite of the intriguing findings, it’s too soon to draw any definitive conclusions about the link between dairy fat and heart disease. As they noted in their report, more research is needed. “The findings from our study using fatty acid biomarkers suggest that higher intake of dairy fat was associated with lower cardiovascular disease risk in diverse populations including Sweden (a country with high dairy intake), though more trials are needed to understand if and how dairy foods protect cardiovascular health.”
While the PLOS Medicine study portrays dairy in a positive light, what are the opinions of other health professionals? Are dairy products a possible way to prevent heart disease?
Is More Dairy The Answer To Heart Health?
Despite the fact that PLOS Medicine’s study is relatively new, there have been previous investigations that support its findings. A review and meta-analysis published in 2017 in Nutrients concluded that dairy consumption may help prevent type 2 diabetes.
Furthermore, a study published in 2016 in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition examined the food intake of 220,000 participants for an average of 26 years, having them fill out a questionnaire every four years. A wide variety of products were consumed, including skim and low-fat milk, whole milk, ice cream, yogurt, cottage cheese, ricotta cheese, cream cheese, and other cheeses.
The study concluded that dairy fat is not associated with an increased risk of heart disease, similar to PLOS Medicine’s findings. In addition, participants who replaced animal fats with dairy fat had a lower risk of cardiovascular disease.
So, what’s the deal? Do dairy products benefit the heart? These findings seem to indicate that dairy is generally beneficial. However, the answer is not that straightforward. According to Dr. Hu , from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, “the explanation for these observations isn’t entirely clear, but the other nutrients in dairy products could play a role.”
Dr Hu. explains that milk contains minerals, calcium, and potassium, which help maintain a healthy blood pressure. Protein also found in dairy helps the body feel full and satisfied, decreasing the likelihood of overeating. Furthermore, Dr. Hu noted that both yogurt and kefir are high in probiotics, which may provide health benefits for the digestive system and cardiovascular system.
Nevertheless, most adults, according to Dr. Hu, should consume two portions of dairy per day. “But I wouldn’t choose full-fat milk or eat a lot of cheese,” he added. Instead of pairing dairy with unhealthy choices like pizza, he recommended a healthier alternative. Ideally, you should pair dairy with fruit, whole grains, or sprinkle it on salads, according to Dr. Hu. Furthermore, when buying yogurt, select plain varieties with low sugar.
While dairy has some promising health benefits, research has a long way to go. Until we learn more, we should continue to follow dietary guidelines.