Dairy Fat May Boost Heart Health

We believe in taking care of our health by listening to our doctors, getting exercise and sleep and maintaining a lifestyle and diet. That’s why we always try to stay up to date with new studies about what we should and shouldn’t be eating for heart health. A recent study from Sweden, one of the world’s largest dairy consumers, found that dairy fat may lower the risk of heart disease.

Researchers in Sweden studied more than 4,000 60-year-olds for an average of 16 years to monitor them for heart attacks, strokes and other heart problems. They measured the amount of fatty acids from dairy in their blood.

They did the blood tests to be as exact as possible. “We measured blood levels of certain fatty acids, or fat ‘building blocks’ 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, senior researcher at the George Institute for Global Health in Sydney and joint senior author of the paper.

When they adjusted for other factors like age, health, income and more, they found that the people with the high amounts of the fatty acids had the lowest risk of heart problems. Then they combined their results with 17 other studies with almost 43,000 people from Denmark, the UK and the U.S. and found the results were still correct — even outside of Sweden.

While the findings may be partly influenced by factors other than dairy fat, our study does not suggest any harm of dairy fat per se,” said Dr. Marklund. “We found those with the highest levels actually had the lowest risk of CVD (cardiovascular disease). These relationships are highly interesting, but we need further studies to better understand the full health impact of dairy fats and dairy foods.”

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,” said lead author Kathy Trieu, a researcher at the George Institute. “However, other fats like those found in seafood, nuts and non-tropical vegetable oils can have greater health benefits than dairy fats.”

This underscores that this research shouldn’t have us running to add massive amounts of butter into our diet. Instead, it shows that we don’t know everything there is to know about dairy yet. The healthy fats in nuts and vegetables like avocados are well understood. If anything, this study should perhaps make us relax more about enjoying dairy products we know are healthy. Fermented foods like yogurt have many proven health benefits and eating full-fat versions of those have been shown to have more perks. This study might help you relax and just look at the sugar on the nutrition label instead of the fat when picking one.

Before making any significant changes to your diet, you should speak to your doctor. It’s fascinating and frustrating how health recommendations change for diet all the time. It shows how much we still have to learn about our bodies. Your doctor can help you decide what is safest with your health history and needs while new research is still happening!

Banner image: Mae Mu via Unsplash

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