Pecorino from Vincenzo

Now Can AHA Stop Hating Dairy Fat?

The wheels of  nutritionism grind slow. Yet another study – this one published yesterday in Lancet – suggests we shouldn’t fear dairy fat so much. But the American Heart Association and other true believers in the dangers of saturated fat show no signs of budging. AHA persists in recommending only fat-free or low-fat dairy.

Another Large Observational Study

Mahshid Dehghan and colleagues published a detailed analysis of data from a large prospective cohort study. They followed 136,384 people. These subjects came from 21 countries on five continents. With nine years of follow-up, the researchers recorded 10,567 deaths and major heart-related events – heart attacks, strokes, and heart failure. They focused on the relationship between dairy consumption (whole-fat and low-fat) and major heart-related outcomes.

What they found pointed to a health benefit from eating dairy foods. Consuming dairy predicted fewer deaths and fewer major cardiac events. However, dairy fat made no difference. People who ate whole-fat dairy did no worse and no better than those who stuck with low-fat dairy.

These findings line up with a whole series of prior studies that reassure us we shouldn’t fear dairy fat quite so much.

Nutritionism vs Whole Foods

But nutritionism has a strong hold on our dietary guidelines. After all, it is important to understand components of food that have major health effects. Certain nutrients – for example, folic acid – are critically important. Others – like trans fats – are profoundly harmful.

But saturated fats are a bit trickier. AHA and many others are stuck on thinking that saturated fats are always bad. Data on dairy fat suggests that this generalization might be a bit overly broad.

Nonetheless, in a commentary alongside the new study, Jimmy Chun Yu Louie and Anna Rangan resist any change in perspective:

Readers should be cautious and should treat this study only as yet another piece of evidence (albeit a large one) in the literature.

Nutrition dogma dies hard and slow. But it’s getting awfully hard to defend guidelines that demonize dairy fat.

Click here for the study and here for the commentary. For further perspective on dairy fat, click here.

Pecorino from Vincenzo, photograph © R☼Wεnα / flickr

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September 12, 2018

3 Responses to “Now Can AHA Stop Hating Dairy Fat?”

  1. September 12, 2018 at 9:30 am, Carolanne Nelson said:

    Its important to be careful in assuming that no reported difference in heart-related events is due to dairy saturated fats having no negative health effects. Milk is a rich source of conjugated linoleic acid, a trans PUFA (ie not all trans fats are bad either) that has been shown to have many positive health effects. Perhaps the benefits of CLA outweigh the detriments of SFA in dairy products.

  2. September 12, 2018 at 9:33 am, John DiTraglia said:

    I drink lots of 2%. But it might be hard tease apart socio-economic associations with drinking milk. I think rich people drink more milk.

    • September 12, 2018 at 10:10 am, Ted said:

      Interesting thought, John. This study suggests that high SES individuals follow the guidance for low-fat dairy more readily. But low SES individuals drink more whole milk.