A new study funded by various agencies including the National Institutes of Health published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that blood markers related to eating whole and reduced-fat dairy foods like milk, cheese and yogurt were not associated with the risk of death or dying from cardiovascular disease (CVD) events and may even be linked to some health benefits.
This 22-year prospective study included 2,907 adults 65 years and older. The researchers measured markers of dairy fat consumption (pentadecanoic [C15:0], heptadecanoic [C17:0] and trans palmitoleic [trans-16:1, n-7] fatty acids) between long intervals at baseline, six and 13 years. The results showed those with higher blood levels of these fatty acids, presumably related to consuming whole and reduced-fat dairy foods such as milk, cheese, yogurt and butter, were not linked to higher risk of death or dying from CVD or stroke compared to lower levels of these blood markers. Additionally, higher blood levels of C17:0 were associated with lower risk of CVD and stroke.
The study aligns with the recent emerging research in the area of fat and overall health outcomes. Previous studies using a similar approach but in middle-aged people found comparable findings. However, an important strength from this new study is the use of serial fatty acid measurements, allowing better assessment of long-term impact of fat from dairy foods, for an objective indication of long-term exposure. Therefore, these new findings suggest no negative association of consuming fat from dairy foods and death from CVD events later in life. In fact, certain fatty acids found in dairy foods (e.g., C17:0) were associated with a lower risk of CVD and stroke mortality.
This study adds to the greater body of science showing that in healthy adults dairy foods, regardless of fat, can be part of a calorie-balanced healthy eating plan.
The 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans continues to recommend low-fat and fat-free dairy foods, but they also allow up to 10 percent of daily calories coming from saturated fat. That means moderate amounts of whole milk dairy can be part of an overall healthy eating plan, as long as you balance consumption with other foods containing saturated fat.