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Full-fat dairy not bad for the heart, study finds

By Sally Robertson, BScMay 11, 2017

A diet that includes full-fat dairy products does not increase the risk of heart disease, say researchers.

The finding comes from a meta-analysis of 29 previous studies looking at whether dairy products increase the risk of death from any cause, including heart problems and cardiovascular disease.

As reported in the European Journal of Epidemiology, the study showed that even eating full-fat cheese, milk and yoghurt does not increase the risk of heart attack or stroke, a finding that contradicts the widely held belief that dairy products can be damaging to health due to their high saturated fat content.

One of the authors of the paper, Ian Givens (Reading University, UK), says: “There’s quite a widespread but mistaken belief among the public that dairy products in general can be bad for you, but that’s a misconception. While it is a widely held belief, our research shows that that’s wrong.”

The study, which is the largest analysis of population cohort studies to date, represents almost one million people and more than 93,000 deaths over a 35-year period.

Givens and team found no association between high-fat/low-fat dairy products and health outcomes of mortality, coronary heart disease or cardiovascular disease. The authors concluded that these foods do not increase the risk of such health problems and have a “neutral” impact on health. In fact, they added that fermented dairy products could potentially slightly lower the risk of heart attack and stroke.

Co-author and nutrition scientist, Jing Guo (Reading University), says: “The number of participants in particular gives us a really clear global picture of the neutral association of dairy on heart disease risk, and some indications about the potentially beneficial effect of fermented dairy on heart health, although further studies are needed to confirm this.”

Also commenting on the paper, Julie Lovegrove, co-author and Head of the Hugh Sinclair Unit of Human Nutrition at Reading University says the findings support previous research showing that foods such as such as milk, cheese and yoghurts, can be part of a healthy, balanced diet.

“We will now be investigating the possible ways that dairy foods may impact on health,” she says.

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