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Dairy Fat Good for Heart Health

New research suggests dairy fat could be off the hook.

Woman eating dairy fat

Listen up, full-fat yogurt lovers; this one is for you. A study published in PLOS ONE suggests that dairy fat, which is mostly the saturated variety, can be good for your heart.

Researchers analyzed blood samples of 4,150 people with a median age of about 60 in Sweden, a country that collectively consumes a lot of dairy products. They followed up with the study participants for an average of 16 years to see how many of them had experienced heart health issues including heart attacks, strokes and hypertension.

People who had higher levels of dairy-derived fatty acid biomarkers in their blood, thought to be a more accurate way to gauge dairy consumption than dietary recalls that rely on memory, had a lower risk of heart disease compared with those who had lower levels. Those with the highest levels had no increased risk of death from all causes.

The researchers then analyzed 18 similar studies of nearly 43,000 people in the U.S., U.K., Sweden and Denmark of similar ages and found comparable results. Worth noting: The biomarkers that the researchers used in the study couldn’t tell the exact type of dairy the study participants ate. So it could be that if you are getting saturated fat from certain types of dairy like yogurt or aged cheeses it might be more beneficial than saturated fat from butter or sugary chocolate milk.

But we shouldn’t be telling people to throw out their olive oil and only use butter. The impact of dairy fat on heart health could also come down to the nutrition matrix of dairy—it’s not so much the fatty acids that are protective but other nutrients like calcium and vitamin B12 and, in the case of fermented options like yogurt, the probiotics. And perhaps people who are eating higher fat dairy end up consuming less saturated fat from other sources like red meat, which may carry higher cardiovascular disease risk than those who get saturated fat from other sources, including dairy.

See also: Does Dairy Do the Waistline Some Good?

Matthew Kadey, MS, RD

Matthew Kadey, MS, RD, is a James Beard Award–winning food journalist, dietitian and author of the cookbook Rocket Fuel: Power-Packed Food for Sport + Adventure (VeloPress 2016). He has written for dozens of magazines, including Runner’s World, Men’s Health, Shape, Men’s Fitness and Muscle and Fitness.

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