Is dairy bad for your heart? Not sure at all about dairy? Here’s the research.
So many questions. Do you worry about the high-fat content in cheese? Or wonder if yogurt or kefir are worth the investment? Are you asking what fat-content milk to drink? If yes, you are likely one of the millions who are not sure how to eat, or if you even should, eat dairy.
These are questions that are well worth exploring.
This article will briefly look at:
The research of whether dairy is harmful to your heart
How to buy and choose healthy dairy products
Which dairy products are best options
Worldwide, heart disease continues to be the leading cause of death and illness. Diet plays a crucial role in the development or prevention.
There may be good reasons not to consume dairy products. Some may be intolerant due to an allergy or sensitivity. Others may choose to eat a Vegan diet. Still, others may have experienced a resolution of health-symptoms after giving up dairy, and now choose to abstain.
Whatever the reason, giving up dairy is a decision that takes some reflection. I recommend a discussion with your healthcare provider and a review of the existing research too.
Exploring the dairy topic can be confusing. Some people are still using old recommendations backed by out-dated science. And, there is a plethron of online sources giving recommendations about dairy that is not backed by any science. So much so, that the public perception has swayed towards the belief that dairy isn’t a healthy choice.
Let’s take a look at some research to find out the verdict on the question is dairy bad for your heart.
And for the record, this post is calling the following foods dairy products:
- Cottage cheese
- Cream cheese
- Sour cream
- Whey protein
Is Dairy Bad for Your Heart? The Research.
But that health message gets lost in translation somewhere. Authors from one study (C) summarize the dichotomy of the research results and the public perception:
“For milk in particular there appears to be an enormous mismatch between both the advice given on milk/dairy foods items by various authorities and public perceptions of harm from the consumption of milk and dairy products, and the evidence from long-term prospective cohort studies. Such studies provide convincing evidence that increased consumption of milk can lead to reductions in the risk of vascular disease and possibly some cancers and of an overall survival advantage from the consumption of milk, although the relative effect of milk products is unclear.”
Is Dairy Bad for Your Heart? Research Shows it Lowers Blood Pressure, Cholesterol, and Stroke risk.
“Low-fat, calcium-rich dairy products are generally considered to lower blood pressure. This was supported by a meta-analysis of six observational studies, whereas no association was found with intake of high-fat dairy products”. (A)
The studies referred to above looked at whether high-fat cheese worsened heart disease risk. The studies compared the high-fat cheese to lower-fat products. The research also reviewed the impact of high-fat cheese on hypertension (high blood pressure), low-density (bad) and high-density (good) cholesterol levels, and stroke risk.
The conclusion at the end of the study reads:
“The overall evidence indicates that a high intake of milk and dairy products, that is, 200–300 ml/day, does not increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. Specifically, there is an inverse association with risk of hypertension and stroke.”
How to Choose and Buy Healthy Dairy Products
It is important to learn which products are considered real or quality dairy when buying dairy products.
The obvious choices include:
- Cow milk (whole, 2%, 1% and skim)
- Cottage cheese
- Ice cream
When buying dairy products, aim for products that have real ingredients. Look for dairy products without added flavoring or sugar, and no or few preservatives or chemical ingredients.
As with any other food, moderation is key. Make an effort to eat only proper servings sizes, as well as the recommended daily amounts.
“Numerous national nutritional recommendations are for 3 servings of dairy products per day (for example, 1 glass of milk, 1 portion of cheese, 1 yogurt), an amount that provides the recommended daily intake of calcium.”(E)
That said, another research study reports, “The overall evidence indicates that a high intake of milk and dairy products, that is, 200–300 ml/day, does not increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. Specifically, there is an inverse association with risk of hypertension and stroke.” (F)
Note: Breakfast bars, cereal products, energy bars, boxed drinks may have ‘milk or dairy’ on their marketing labels, but they should not be considered dairy products.
Which Dairy Products are Best Options
Best dairy product options are those that are made with quality ingredients and ‘are what they are.’ Food companies may place marketing on food labels that say ‘low-fat’ or ‘healthy low-fat’ to incentivize sales. They may say milk is in the product, but only a fraction among many artificial or chemical ingredients. The best action is to read the food label.
Remember the research when buying dairy products. High-fat cheese and other real dairy products were part of the study. High-fat cheese made with quality ingredients will be a ‘real’ dairy product compared to an artificially made ‘low-fat’ cheese of the same variety.
The food makers will add more sugar, salt or flavoring to make it taste similar to the high-fat companion. These additives are not like the dairy in the research, thus should be cautiously considered, or at the very least not be viewed as a real dairy option when you are thinking about food for heart health.
In closing, it is essential to discuss your dairy related dietary decisions with your healthcare provider. If you decide that dairy is appropriate as part of your diet there are three recommendations for choosing dairy that will align with the research. 1. Stick to choosing milk, cheese yogurt, etc. (vs food labeled as milk products” 2. Eat a proper serving size. 3. Buy dairy products with real ingredients, or eat as ‘clean’ as possible to avoid artificial ingredients. Remember to start simple: a serving a milk, a serving of real cheese, and a serving of yogurt will meet the recommended daily allowance of dairy.