Can drinking whole-fat milk, eating dairy lower heart disease risk?

Credit: Coleur/Pixabay

Credit: Coleur/Pixabay

Many health conscious grocery shoppers tend to flock toward low-fat milk and dairy products, but new research suggests whole-fat dairy may be better for your heart than you think.

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An analysis of 136,384 individuals across 21 countries and five continents found that higher intake of whole milk and yogurt was associated with lower risk of cardiovascular events and mortality.

A total intake of two or more servings of full-fat dairy products was associated with a 22 percent lower risk of cardiovascular disease, 34 percent lower risk of stroke and 23 percent of mortality due to heart disease.

One serving of milk, for example, translates to about eight ounces of whole-fat milk or yogurt, half an ounce slice of cheese or a teaspoon of butter, but the researchers found no significant association between increased consumption of cheese or butter and lower risk of cardiovascular events.

"Dietary guidelines recommend minimizing consumption of whole-fat dairy products, as they are a source of saturated fats and presumed to adversely affect blood lipids and increase cardiovascular disease and mortality," researchers wrote in the cohort study, which was published in the journal The Lancet on Tuesday. But lead author Mahshid Dehghan told the New York Times that "we should not discourage consumption of dairy, especially among people who already have low daily consumption."

In fact, individuals who consume very low amounts of dairy are encouraged to increase consumption, she said.

This isn't the first study to highlight the benefits of whole-fat dairy. Previous research has found high-fat dairy products helped women lower risk of being overweight or obese by 8 percent compared to low-fat products.

Another study that followed health professionals for 15 years found that people with higher levels of full-fat dairy by-products had a 46 percent lower risk of getting diabetes than those with lower levels.

"I think these findings together with those from other studies do call for a change in the policy of recommending only low-fat dairy products," lead author Dariush Mozaffarian told "There is no prospective human evidence that people who eat low-fat dairy do better than people who eat whole-fat dairy."

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