A higher consumption of dairy fat could potentially lower your risk of heart disease, according to new research that studied people who live in countries that consume lots of dairy products. So basically, if you like cheese and yogurt—keep reading.
An international team of scientists studied the diets of 4,150 60-year-old adults in Sweden to make the determination about dairy fat and cardiovascular disease. They measured the blood levels of a specific fatty acid most commonly found in dairy foods to make the determination. Researchers followed up with study participants regularly for 16 years in order to observe how many individuals had heart attacks, strokes, and how many of them died.
The good news? Researchers found that those who had high levels of the fatty acid actually had the lowest risk of cardiovascular disease.
These participants also had no increased risk of death from all causes. The researchers then compared the results of the Swedish participants against 17 other studies conducted in the U.S., Denmark, and the UK—with participants totaling over 43,000.
"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," Matti Marklund, senior researcher at the George Institute for Global Health in Sydney and joint senior author of the paper, said in a statement.
"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," he said.
Many health organizations have touted the benefits of a low-dairy diet for a long time. While the results of this study aren't indicative of how all individuals would fare with a diet rich in dairy fats because correlation doesn't always mean causation—genetics, age, exercise and nutrition are varying factors in everyone's overall health—this study is a very good reminder of the benefits of full-fat dairy.
Full-fat dairy allows for absorption of fat-based vitamins (like good ol' vitamin D), and it also helps with calcium and mineral absorption. The American Academy of Family Physicians recommends children ages 1-2 years old consume whole milk products rather than reduced-fat in order to promote better vitamin D and calcium absorption from food.
Does this mean we can all eat our favorite gourmet cheese without a side of guilt? Well, for starters, feelings of guilt and morality shouldn't be associated with nutrition. Aside from that, a lecturer at the Department of Health and Nutritional Sciences at Ireland's Institute of Technology says this study validates that it's time to re-think what we know about food and disease.
"Dairy products do not need to be avoided," Brian Power tells CNN. "This is largely lost in its translation when communicating what we know about healthy eating."