Low-fat dairy, including milk, cheese, butter and other foods of the same kind, are usually perceived of as healthier options, mostly due to the previously published studies suggesting that saturated fats, in which full-far dairy is rich, are to be avoided. A new study exonerates it: eating and drinking such foods is not that dangerous after all.
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Those who lived in the 70s must be embarrassed by the ado about avoidance of full-fat milk and products derived from it. Back then, a milkman would bring a bottle of milk right to your door, and white moustaches were a common thing to see. Milk was considered something essential for child development, as it was impossible to imagine that someone would refuse to give their child dairy. Nowadays, you are more likely to see someone sipping nut milk at a café rather then indulging in a jar of fresh milk–all due to the fear of increased cardiovascular risk.
People began to cut down on milk when the first reports about the dangers behind dairy started to appear. The process, which began in the 90s, had been in full swing for a couple of decades–with an impressive Cochrane study published in 2015 supporting the claim–until a new piece of evidence cast doubt on the alleged dangers lurking in full-fat milk.
The study that broke the mold has recently been carried out by a team of scientists from various American universities. A total of 2,907 volunteers were enrolled in the study, which lasted 22 years. During the period of follow-up, the researchers regularly measured their blood levels of the kind of fats received from dairy. It is one of the reasons why the study is so innovative: it is the first paper to be based not on self-reported dairy consumption (such data is almost inevitably inaccurate), but on the measurements of certain chemicals in the blood. The new findings run counter to what has been said all these years: no, diary is not likely to kill you.
However, this study is not flawless either. The presence of dairy fats in blood samples only indicated that at least some kind of dairy products was consumed, but it may well be skim milk, low-fat butter or whatever else, so dairy consumption was not tracked with regard to a particular product. That being said, the levels were indicative of the relative impact these dairy products could have on health, and regardless of their type, they were still dairy.
Dairy fats are different, and some of them even turned out to be beneficial. As the study suggests, higher levels of heptadecanoic acid were associated with a lower risk of stroke.
Having analyzed the outcomes, the researchers came to the conclusion that there was no difference in them, as both those who had high levels of dairy fats in the blood and those who had lower levels had similar rates of mortality.
A controversial issue
The news about this full-fat milk vindication has been circulating since the study was published a month ago. There were other studies that reported dairy’s apparent safety, and it seems that dairy has now been exonerated. However, there are details which deserve special attention.
It is reported that heptadecanoic acid is beneficial, as it is associated with a 42% lower risk of cardiovascular diseases. It is also worthy of note that there was another association: higher levels of the acid were linked to higher non-CVD mortality. Besides, the study showed that consumption of dairy fats “was not significantly associated” with what had been reported earlier as the danger behind milk. Still, the 2015 Cochrane study also found that reduction in saturated fats does not result in a lower risk of dying: rather, it reduces the risk of CVD by 17%.
The dairy vindication process has now made headlines, but it remains unclear whether there are dangerous implications of dairy consumption: it is not linked to higher overall mortality, but there could still be an association with CVD. As to whether a particular food can harm your health, it is something to be researched in the future. As of this moment, there is no clear answer.
Drinking milk and eating other dairy products is not something to lose sleep over, and doing so does not necessarily mean you will die prematurely – there are so many factors that play a role in it that a glass of milk is not likely to have significant impact. Just don’t indulge in it too often – moderation matters.