Adding full-fat milk and other dairy products to your diet could protect you against strokes, a new study suggests.
Researchers from the University of Texas, who published their findings in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found eating or drinking full-fat products like milk, yogurt, cheese and butter didn’t shorten life in adults 65 and older. More specifically, the report found there was no link between dairy fats and heart disease and stroke.
“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,” said study author Marcia Otto in a statement.
Using a timeframe of 22 years, researchers looked at how biomarkers of fatty acids in dairy fat were linked to heart disease. The Telegraph reports the study included 3,000 adults 65 and older who had blood levels measured for three different fatty acids found in dairy products.
“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 continued in the report.
But registered dietitian Shahzadi Devje of Toronto says we shouldn’t fixate on a single nutrient when we look at cardiovascular disease as a whole.
“We need to stop ourselves from making recommendations about food based on theories about a single nutrient in food,” she tells Global News. “Your dietary pattern and lifestyle as a whole, impact your cardiovascular risk and overall health.”
She adds while the results of this one study suggest that a type of fat in dairy may lower risk of death from stroke, it is not conclusive or robust enough to tell Canadians to drink full-fat milk every day.
“In my opinion, saturated fat found in milk and dairy is not the cause of cardiovascular disease, because there is no single cause of cardiovascular disease,” she continues. “What we do know is that a diet low in saturated fat is associated with longevity and vitality. This does not mean that a diet high in saturated fat can’t produce these outcomes, but we simply don’t have strong enough evidence to prove that.”
She adds what experts know is foods linked with less risk of chronic disease are the ones low in saturated fat.
“And if that’s not convincing enough, the healthiest populations in the world do not have a high intake of saturated fat. Now that does not mean you should not eat any full-fat dairy, it’s all about moderation and balance and enjoying a predominantly plant-based diet.”
Benefits of fat
Devje adds fat is an essential nutrient that our bodies need.
“It’s a component of our cell walls, and is also needed to absorb fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K,” she continues. “Fat helps to increase fullness and forms a protective cushion for your organs.”
But she says when people are told to reduce how much fat they’re consuming, they often turn to refined carbs. “Eating refined carbohydrates, on a regular basis, in place of saturated fat does lower your ‘good’ HDL cholesterol and increases triglycerides levels. This is just as bad for your cardiovascular health.”
They may also favour products labelled “low-fat”
“Rather than adopting a low-fat diet, it’s more important to focus on eating beneficial healthier fats from nuts, seeds, olive oil or avocado and avoid harmful fats,” she explains. “The worst kind of fats are trans fat — these increase disease risk, even when eaten in small quantities. Foods containing trans fats are primarily found in processed foods made with trans fat from partially hydrogenated oil.”
What about milk?
And although more research needs to be done on full-fat milk, in particular, it doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it from time to time.
“You can certainly enjoy full-fat milk now and then in your coffee or recipes, but I wouldn’t say have as much as you want,” she says. “Although saturated fat may not be as harmful as previously thought, unsaturated fat is the healthiest type of fat. Focus more on your dietary patterns on getting a variety of whole plant-based foods and different types of healthy fats in your diet.”
She adds it’s never about cutting food out.
“A healthy diet is not about restriction and deprivation, rather overall balance and enjoyment.”
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