A large new study links whole-fat dairy food consumption to a reduced risk for cardiovascular disease. The findings raise questions about current dietary guidelines, which suggest substituting fat-free or low-fat dairy for full-fat products.
The study, published in Lancet, included 136,384 people in 21 countries followed for an average of nine years.
Total intake of two or more servings of full-fat dairy food was associated with a 22 percent lower risk of heart disease, a 34 percent lower risk of stroke, and a 23 percent lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease. (A serving was eight ounces of milk or yogurt, a teaspoon of butter or a half-ounce slice of cheese.) There was no association with butter consumption alone, possibly because the population studied ate so little of it.
The study controlled for numerous factors, including age, sex, education, smoking, physical activity, and the consumption of fruit, vegetables, red meat and starchy foods.
The lead author, Mahshid Dehghan, a senior research associate at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, said that current guidelines are based on the presumed harms of saturated fatty acids on a single risk marker, LDL, or “bad,” cholesterol. But dairy products include many different nutrients.
“We should not discourage consumption of dairy, especially among people who already have low daily consumption,” she said. “If people consume very low amounts, they should be encouraged to increase their consumption.”