The world of nutrition is ever-changing, and today I wanted to share an updated study about dairy fat and heart disease.
You may remember back in the day when low-fat diets were the craze. This is in part because saturated fat, found in your animal products (meats, milk, cheese, and butter), has been shown to increase LDL cholesterol. LDL is known as the bad cholesterol and increased levels are a risk factor for developing cardiovascular disease. Some examples of CVD include stroke, heart attack, high blood pressure, and coronary artery disease. I’m sure we all know someone who suffers from CVD. This is why it has often been said that saturated fats are bad for the heart.
The shift of focus has more recently gone from fat to sugar. This is because of two mean reasons…
One is that people replaced fat with refined carbohydrates (sugary stuff) during the low-fat craze and that ended up being even more detrimental to our health. Someone recently gave me the perfect example of this growing up in the early 90s when their mom would not allow them to have a candy bar (high fat) but they could have as many Twizzlers as they wanted We’ve also increased our intake of other sugary items like snacks, cookies, crackers, etc. and added sugar is in things it shouldn’t be in now. Increased added sugar is now being linked to all sorts of chronic diseases.
Another is that in the recent years, there have been several studies that found no significant tie between saturated fat intake and CVD like we once thought. For example, this study from 2014 found that there really wasn’t the data to support that increased saturated fat intake increased the risk for coronary disease. Here are two more examples of these types of studies, both of which were cited in the article I’m getting ready to talk about: Dairy products and CVD Risk and Butter and CVD Risk.
New Harvard Study
I read this new study from Harvard’s School of Public Health about dairy fat and cardiovascular disease and immediately wanted to share it with you guys. The study states it is the first large-scale prospective study that takes a closer look at dairy fat intake and CVD risk when replaced with other types of fat. Remember that dairy fat is comprised of saturated fat, and the amount of saturated fat in milk is the difference between skim, 1%, 2% and whole milk. The article also states that dairy products account for 1/5 of the total saturated fat intake in our country, so I think the information is definitely relevant to us and our health!
I appreciate how big this study was. You will also see that one of the three cohorts in the study was the Health Professionals Follow-Up study, which is made up of dentists, vets, pharmacists, etc. They were submitting information about their food intake, and it definitely makes you think their data could be more accurate/reliable since they are a more educated population.
The study finds:
- No association between dairy fat and the risk of CVD when compared to carbohydrate intake
- Replacing dairy fat with whole grains (the study refers to this as “high quality carbohydrates”) decreases CVD risk
- Substituting dairy with animal fat increases the risk of CVD
- Replacing dairy fat with plant fats decreases the risk of CVD
Takeaways from the Study
I see A LOT of patients with cardiovascular disease so I really try to stay up-to-date on these types of studies. It has been a bit challenging over the past few years given all of the new (and sometimes conflicting) research. I also never read 1 study and think it is the bible of nutrition because there are SO many conflicting studies out there…. I just try to think of everything as a whole if that makes sense.
#1- The first thing that stood out to me about this study is something that concerns me about the current fad diets of no wheat / gluten-free. There is a lot of evidence supporting that whole grain intake can reduce CVD, and this study supports that. I have another post about gluten if you’re interested.
#2- It also got me thinking about the paleo diet, which says no dairy but you can have red meat. This study actually indicates that this is not good for our CVD risk and that you should actually do the opposite. Side note: I do think there are healthy ways to have a more “ancestral” way of eating, but I really will never be able to 100% get behind every detail of the paleo diet.
#3- Above all else, this study supports what many, many other medical-based diets recommend, and that is moving away from meats higher in saturated fat, like red meats, and more towards a plant-based diet.
As a dietitian, I really hate telling people what to do. I don’t think nutrition is one-size-fits-all and I think recommendations are really dependent on a specific person and his or her diet. So instead, I like to present evidence-based thoughts and allow clients and patients to decide for themselves what is best for their bodies. So I would encourage you to read this article and other articles on the topic to determine what kind of dairy is best for you!
So, not going to lie, I love food! And I love eating I read a lot of dietitian blogs and I know full fat dairy is widely accepted amongst people in my profession. I’ve actually had many discussions about this with coworkers! For me personally, I generally only consume fat-free or low-fat dairy and that is for a couple of reasons:
Even though I don’t consume higher fat dairy options, I definitely do not restrict fat in my diet. My daily eats consist of some sort of fat like olive oil, avocado, fish and nuts.
Studies have shown that increasing fat intake can improve satiety. I fully support this and recognize that increased satiety = less snacking = better chance of overall healthier diet and reaching weight goals. But in my meals that contain dairy, I’m always also consuming fiber (from fruits) and protein (from the dairy), both of which also improve satiety. Something like a bowl of cottage cheese or yogurt mixed with berries is plenty filling for me in the morning.
So before I say this, I just want you to know that I really hate talking about calories…. I don’t count calories and I don’t teach clients to count calories. So please do not think I’m advocating that for any of my readers. But I want to give a full picture of my thought process here. Even though I don’t count calories, I do try to be mindful of what I’m eating and drinking throughout the day. I consume milk, yogurt and cottage cheese regularly and the difference between lower and higher fat versions can be anywhere from 70-100 calories per serving. If I have 2 servings of full fat dairy then that’s an additional 140-200 calories per day, or >10% of my normal caloric intake. I would rather save those calories for something else. Then I can eat more food!
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I’d love to hear from you!
What are your thoughts about this study?
Do you consume full fat dairy products?
Any other interesting nutrition-related studies you’ve come across lately? I’d love to hear about them!!