For years, dietary guidelines have urged people to stay away from full-fat dairy, warning of its high saturated fat content which is believed to increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. But now a new study is calling that link into question.
Just published in The Lancet, a large cohort study with 130,000 participants across 21 countries in five continents has found the opposite of what we've been told all along -- that consuming 3 servings of full-fat dairy per day is actually associated with lower rates of cardiovascular disease and mortality, compared to those who avoid them. Furthermore,
"The study found that people who consumed three servings of whole fat dairy per day had lower rates of mortality and cardiovascular disease compared to those who consumed less than 0.5 serving of whole fat dairy per day." (via Eurekalert)
In other words, it looks like eating full-fat dairy -- which in this case includes yogurt, cheese, and milk -- is more beneficial for you than not.
Participants were followed for just over 9 years and grouped into four categories: no dairy, less than 1 serving per day, 1-2 servings per day, and over 2 servings per day. A serving was defined as one 8-oz glass of milk, one 8-oz cup of yogurt, one slice of cheese, and 1 teaspoon of butter.
Those in the high-intake group had lower total mortality rates compared to the no-intake group (3.4% vs 5.6%). Among those consuming only full-fat dairy, higher intake (of 2.9 servings per day) had lower total mortality rates than those eating 0.5 servings daily (3.3% vs 4.4%).
The findings would not be so controversial and surprising if they didn't go completely against conventional dietary advice. As the Financial Times explained,
"Current international healthy eating guidelines suggest that people should eat between two and four portions of fat-free or low-fat dairy products such as skimmed milk each day and limit whole fat dairy intake to prevent heart disease."
It's no wonder, then, that the researchers are cautious. They have not made sweeping conclusions about the findings, saying it's important to do further research into how and why dairy might be associated with lower levels of cardiovascular disease. They say that the findings are not "the ultimate seal of approval for recommending whole-fat dairy over its low-fat or skimmed counterparts."
Still, after reading Gary Taubes' fascinating book, Why We Get Fat, this past summer, the research makes sense to me. Our bodies need fat, and the trend toward less fat, less protein, and fewer carbs over the past several decades has clearly failed. Temporary diets rarely work, and public health is very obviously deteriorating, based on the rising numbers of Americans battling obesity and non-communicable chronic diseases. Meanwhile,
"If eating saturated fat is so bad, why do the French, who every day eat much more of it than the Anglo-Saxons, suffer from less than a third the rate of heart disease of Brits?" (via FT)
So, while the scientists are busy planning their followup studies, I'll be at home perfecting my recipe for homemade ice cream, made with all the full-fat dairy I can get my hands on.
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