Study: Stop avoiding whole dairy products for heart health

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12 Jul 2018 --- New research at The University of Texas could banish the feeling of guilt some consumers may have around consuming whole dairy products amid conflicting information about fats and heart health. The study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found no significant link between dairy fats and cause of death, or, more specifically, heart disease and stroke – two of the US’s biggest killers. In fact, certain types of dairy fat may help guard against having a severe stroke, the researchers reported.

“Our findings not only support but also significantly strengthen, the growing body of evidence which suggests that dairy fat, contrary to popular belief, does not increase the risk of heart disease or overall mortality in older adults. In addition to not contributing to death, the results suggest that one fatty acid present in dairy may lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease, particularly from stroke,” says Marcia Otto, Ph.D., the study's first and corresponding author and Assistant Professor in the Department of Epidemiology, Human Genetics and Environmental Sciences at UTHealth School of Public Health.

The study evaluated how multiple biomarkers of fatty acid present in dairy fat related to heart disease and all-cause mortality over a 22-year period. This measurement methodology, as opposed to the more commonly used self-reported consumption, gave greater and more objective insight into the impact of long-term exposure to these fatty acids, according to the report.

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Marcia Otto, Ph.D., the study's first
and corresponding author.

Nearly 3,000 adults aged 65 years and older were included in the study, which measured plasma levels of three different fatty acids found in dairy products at the beginning in 1992 and again at six and 13 years later.

None of the fatty acid types were significantly associated with total mortality, the researchers noted. In fact, one type was linked to lower cardiovascular disease deaths. People with higher fatty acid levels, suggesting higher consumption of whole-fat dairy products, had a 42 percent lower risk of dying from stroke.

The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans currently recommend serving fat-free or low-fat dairy, including milk, cheese, yogurt, and/or fortified soy beverages. However, Otto points out that low-fat dairy foods such as low-fat yogurt and chocolate milk often include high amounts of added sugars, which may lead to poor cardiovascular and metabolic health.

“Consistent with previous findings, our results highlight the need to revisit current dietary guidance on whole fat dairy foods, which are rich sources of nutrients such as calcium and potassium. These are essential for health not only during childhood but throughout life, particularly also in later years when undernourishment and conditions like osteoporosis are more common,” Otto said.

Evidence-based research is key to educating people about nutrition, Otto adds.

“Consumers have been exposed to so much different and conflicting information about diet, particularly about fats," she said. "It's therefore important to have robust studies, so people can make more balanced and informed choices based on scientific fact rather than hearsay,” she concludes.

Research on heart disease is wide and offers various insights that both support and contradict each other. A study published in the journal Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases, for example, identified that a plant-based and preferably vegan diet could cut the risk of heart disease by 40 percent
 

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