A long-term study on the cardiovascular health of over 4,000 participants just released results contradictory to previous guidance on dairy intake. This study, coupled with others of its kind, has provided new food for thought: Cutting down on dairy might not be the best choice for your heart health.
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Published in the George Institute for Global Health, an international team of scientists studied the fat consumption of a considerable cohort of 60-year-olds in Sweden — one of the world’s largest dairy-producing and consuming countries. They did so by measuring blood levels of fatty acids found primarily in dairy foods. Researchers followed the group for almost two decades, observing circulatory events, strokes, and heart attacks.
Researchers discovered that those with high levels of dairy-derived fatty acids had the lowest risk of cardiovascular disease. This data, combined with 17 other studies out of the U.K. and Denmark, aggregated 43,000 participant results to amass these significant new findings.
Participants with the highest intake of dairy fat showed the lowest risk of cardiovascular disease.
They were sure to note in their findings that it was difficult to isolate all variables, such as lifestyle, dietary habits, and other diseases. Furthermore, results certainly have influences of factors other than dairy, so further study is needed to better understand the full impact. But the lead author and researcher out of George Institute for Global Health, Kathy Trieu, detailed that dairy foods, especially fermented products, are beneficial for heart health.
A lecturer at the Department of Health and Nutritional Sciences at Ireland’s Institute of Technology Sligo, Brian Power, made a thought-provoking statement that should make us all question sweeping health recommendations: “[this study should prompt us to] rethink what we think we know about food and disease.”
Dairy Fat and Heart Health
Dairy fat contains over 400 different types of fatty acids. Two crucial fatty acids are C15 and C17. These both contain Milk Fat Globule Membranes, or MFGMs, which have been proven to lower type 2 diabetes risks.
With cardiovascular disease killing upwards of 350,000 people every year in the U.S. alone, it is no wonder scientists and researchers continue to study the various roles that food, and specifically fats, can play on heart health. A notable study out of Sweden looked closely at the relationship between fatty acid biomarkers in blood samples and cardiovascular disease.
Ultimately, in conjunction with numerous other studies, they discovered that the higher the dairy fat intake, the lower the risk of cardiovascular disease. Now, this doesn’t mean run out and eat cheese for three meals a day. But what it does mean is that previous recommendations to transition to vegan, non-dairy or dairy-alternative diets are antiquated.
Fermented dairy produces gut benefits, too
Fermented dairy products contain safe-to-eat bacteria that can produce what are called short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs). The benefits of SCFAs cannot be overstated—they can reduce inflammation by decreasing the risk of heart disease and blocking cholesterol production.
SCFAs’ intestinal barrier supports healthy mucus production and colon health and provides an energy source for microbiota to conduct essential signaling functions for efficient digestion.
Dairy and its role in cancer prevention
While not part of this notable study’s findings, dairy has also been shown to play a role in the reduction of cancer onset. As we know, cancer risks are strongly impacted by our diet. It is important to note that the studies performed on the relationship between cancer and any food group are correlational studies, meaning that they use statistics to estimate the relationship.
Colorectal cancer, one of the most common types of cancer worldwide, has been studied numerous times, with most studies indicating that eating dairy may reduce the risk due to its makeup of calcium, vitamin D and lactic acid bacteria (a fermented food!).
The casein and lactose contained in milk may increase the calcium bioavailability to the body, making its range of protective benefits more easily accessed. Furthermore, the short-chain fatty acid, butyrate found in milk, may also serve as a protective mechanism against colorectal cancer.
While there has been talk over the past year about dairy having a relationship to the onset of breast cancer, no studies have been substantiated to support this claim. In fact, after aggregating 20 of the more prominent studies, the Susan G. Komen Institute conducted a pooled analysis and confirmed that there is, in fact, no link between dairy and breast cancer risk.
What to eat to increase dairy fat in a healthy way
Continue reading about the benefits of Fermented Foods here.
The Bottom Line
Don’t fear dairy! It is important that we stay updated with dietary recommendations and research-backed by peer-reviewed studies. Too often are we misled by sweeping nutrition generalizations that we blindly adhere to. Keep up with Dirt to Dinner for the latest in health and nutrition research.