Were all the horror stories about dairy products and heart disease wrong after all?

Consuming full-fat cheese, milk and yoghurt does not increase the risk of heart attack or stroke, according to a new analysis published in the European Journal of Epidemiology.

The research challenges the widely held belief that dairy produce is unhealthy due to its high saturated fat content.

The meta-analysis of 29 previous studies, which was carried out by a team of researchers from Reading, Copenhagen and Wageningen University in the Netherlands, found no association between total dairy consumption and coronary heart disease, cardiovascular disease and premature death.

The studies analysed included data from 938,465 participants from around the world gathered in the last 35 years. The researchers found that fermented dairy products – which are not widely consumed in the UK – could even slightly lower the risk of heart attack and stroke.

Ian Givens, an adviser to the Food Standards Agency who worked on the study, said: ‘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.’

‘There’s been a lot of publicity over the last five to 10 years about how saturated fats increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and a belief has grown up that they must increase the risk, but they don’t.’

Instant analysis

‘It can sometimes appear confusing knowing exactly which health advice to follow as there are so many health studies appearing all the time throwing often contradictory advice into the equation about how best to lead a healthy life. This study is no exception but definitely warrants serious consideration. Researchers from the UK, Denmark and the Netherlands analysed 29 studies involving almost 940,000 people from around the world from the last 35 years and found that there was no association between the intake of both high and low fat dairy and milk with heart disease and mortality.

This somewhat flies in the face of conventional advice to keep our intake of saturated fats as low as possible to help reduce the risk of heart disease, but should not be seen as a license to eat large quantities of dairy and fat – sensible eating remains key here, especially where fats, processed foods, sugar and salt are concerned along with keeping our weight at a healthy level. It is also worth mentioning that the research was part-funded by three pro-dairy groups although the paper says these had no influence over the findings. This study will stir the pot as to what constitutes a healthy diet even more, but in the meantime we should still stick to a diet where moderation is all, including high-fat products.’

RH

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