Got Milk? For a Healthy Heart, New Studies Suggest It
Dr. Kara's Health Insights

Got Milk? For a Healthy Heart, New Studies Suggest It

by DK Kara MD on Oct 04, 2021

Butter makes everything better, right? Apparently so… For years, full fat dairy was thought to contribute to heart disease because of the amount of saturated fats it contained.

However, new studies are coming out indicating otherwise. Could it be that dairy can actually lower your chances of heart attacks, strokes, and other heart diseases?

Fats: Friend or Foe

Your body is made up of many components. Atoms, molecules, cells, organs, connective tissues… each dependent upon and working with each other.

Fats are no exception. These molecules help protect our cells, insulate organs, and store energy (1) our body can use later.  

But wait, aren’t fats bad for heart health? If you or someone you know has been diagnosed with heart disease, you may have heard that eating a low-fat diet is necessary from now on.

It’s what you’ve always heard, but science is changing… and we need to keep up with that change.

Types

When it comes to fats, it would be helpful to understand the different types (2). Let’s take a look at the types of fats that are available:

Unsaturated Fats

Primarily found in plants like nuts, seeds, and vegetable oils, these fats are generally liquid at room temperature. They’re helpful in reducing inflammation, regulating blood cholesterol, and keeping your heart beating regularly. 

Within this group, there are actually two beneficial, or “good”, fats:

  • Monounsaturated fats: mono meaning “one”, this fat molecule has one unsaturated carbon bond. Some places these can be found are avocados, pumpkin or sesame seeds, canola oil, nuts, and olives.
  • Polyunsaturated fats: poly means “many”, so these fats have many unsaturated carbon bonds.  These fats are typically found in walnuts, fish (omega-3s are in this group), flax seeds, corn oil, soybean oil, and canola oil as well.

Saturated Fats

Even the healthiest foods have a small amount of saturated fats in them. These fats are often solid at room temperature. Foods that are known to be high in saturated fats are butter, coconut oils, red meats, and cheeses.

These fats have gotten a bad rap for many years, but new research is suggesting certain types may not be as bad as researchers once thought.

Trans Fats

If you’ve ever spread margarine on your morning toast, then you just took in some trans fats. These fats are also called “hydrogenated” oils because of how they’re processed.

Vegetable oils are heated up and mixed with hydrogen and a catalyst. Why? It helps stabilize the oils, delaying and preventing them from going rancid. It’s able to take a lot of heat without breaking down, which is why it’s often the go-to for frying fast food.

Dressings, fried foods, grain-based desserts and processed foods also contain a lot of saturated fats.

This is the worst type of fat, as it does the most damage to your heart, blood vessels, and other organs. It creates inflammation, raises bad LDL cholesterol, contributes to insulin resistance, and increases your risk of developing heart disease.

New Research

The Harvard School of Public Health (2) observes, “Though decades of dietary advice (13, 14) suggested saturated fat was harmful, in recent years that idea has begun to evolve. Several studies suggest that eating diets high in saturated fat do not raise the risk of heart disease...”

Science is always changing, and new studies are coming out that seem to suggest saturated fats might not be that bad.

One study (3) involved a large group around 4,150 Swedish people. The average age group was around 60 years old. Sweden is known to be a country where the population consumes a lot of dairy on a regular basis.

Blood samples were taken and the biomarker serum pentadecanoic acid (15:0) was tested. This biomarker was used as an indicator of dairy fat intake.

These people were then followed for 16 years. To their surprise, researchers found that those who consumed full fat dairy did not increase their risk of getting heart disease.  

Kathy Trieu, a researcher from the George Institute for Global Health in Sydney, Australia, suggests that the type of dairy (4) makes a difference over the fat content. Foods like full fat milk, cheese, and yogurt may help lower your chances of heart disease. 

Conclusion

So what does this all mean? Based on what researchers are finding, saturated fats aren't bad unless consumed in large quantities.

Dairy carries a reputation of being bad for your heart since it tends to be high in saturated fat. But these new findings may suggest you don’t need to pursue low fat options like you thought.

What if you don’t like dairy, or are avoiding it for other health reasons? There are ways to get the nutrients full fat milk provides from other sources (5). Non-dairy milk options can include:

  • Coconut
  • Soy
  • Oat
  • Hemp
  • Almond
  • Rice

One thing remains clear: trans-fats are still a culprit for many heart related issues. Other factors like smoking, exercise, and stress influence heart disease as well.

Eat good fats, avoid bad fats. I’ll raise a glass of milk to that!

References & Disclaimers

(1) https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/04/130423102127.htm

(2) https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/fats-and-cholesterol/types-of-fat/

(3) https://journals.plos.org/plosmedicine/article?id=10.1371/journal.pmed.1003763

(4) https://www.usnews.com/news/health-news/articles/2021-09-23/dairy-foods-may-be-good-for-you-after-all

(5) https://www.healthline.com/health-news/eating-more-plant-protein-and-dairy-products-may-improve-heart-health

✝✝This noted statement is based on independent research and is not necessarily the opinion of the author