Experts say foods such as milk and cheese high in dairy fat can help lower the risk of cardiovascular disease. Sneksy/Getty Images Researchers say foods that are high in dairy fat can help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Part of the reason is that dairy products such as milk, cheese, and yogurt are high in a number of nutrients. Nutritionists point out that there are nondairy products that can also provide these nutrients. Eating high-fat dairy is good for our heart health. This is suggested by a new study from Sweden that looked at the relationship between a fatty acid biomarker in blood samples called 15:0 (pentadecanoic acid) and cardiovascular diseases such as heart disease or stroke. Biomarkers are molecules that can help signify normal or abnormal functioning. Researchers said of the 4,150 adult study participants (51 percent female and 60 median age), those with the highest levels of the fatty acid associated with higher fat dairy had the lowest risk of cardiovascular disease and no increased risk of death from death all causes. Other cardiovascular risk factors like smoking were accounted for in the research. “While the findings may be partly influenced by factors other than dairy fat, our study does not suggest any harm of dairy fat, per se,” Matti Marklund, PhD, a senior researcher at the George Institute for Global Health in Sydney, Australia, and joint senior author of the paper, said in a statement. The international team of researchers compared and confirmed their findings with those of 17 other studies involving a total of almost 43,000 people from the United States, Denmark, and the United Kingdom.
There was a correlation with the biomarker level in a person’s blood at one point in time and their risk of cardiovascular disease. The biomarker 15:0 is present in dairy products and has been shown to be a reliable indicator of dairy consumption by an individual when measured from their adipose tissue or serum (the liquid portion of blood), explains Caroline West Passerrello, MS, a registered dietitian nutritionist and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “But it’s important to note that the biomarker levels were only assessed once, at baseline,” she said. “The author’s can’t say for sure that changes in other [cardiovascular disease] risk factors over time didn’t play a role (i.e., smoking, physical activity, overall dietary patterns), or that the folks in the study continued to consume dairy in the same amounts as they had been consuming at their baseline measurement,” Passerrello told Healthline.
Dairy is different for everyone Consumption of foods high in dairy such as milk, cheese, and yogurt doesn’t affect everybody the same way. “If a client wants to increase their consumption of dairy, we talk about what their current dietary pattern looks like and the best strategy for them,” said Passerrello. In some cases, she explained, dairy can just be added to the diet, and in other cases, the recommendation may be swapping out something else for dairy. For example, if someone drinks 2 or 3 cans of soda a day and is interested in increasing dairy consumption, they may be encouraged to swap 1 or 2 cans of soda for a glass or 2 of milk if that fits their budget and lifestyle.
What if you don’t eat dairy? “Some good news for someone who doesn’t consume dairy is that the study uses a biomarker for dairy,” said Passerrello. “However, that doesn’t mean that the benefits seen came from something that is only available in dairy products.” She says that while dairy foods are a good source of protein, calcium, potassium, and other nutrients, someone who can’t or doesn’t want to consume dairy can focus on eating various foods to improve their heart health. If you’re looking for a non-dairy milk replacement, you may want to try one of these: You can also find non-dairy cheese, yogurt, and sour cream products. The American Heart Association on leading a heart-healthy lifestyle with tips on reducing risk factors of cardiovascular disease such as stress, tobacco smoking, and a sedentary lifestyle.