Do Milk and Dairy Products Raise Risk of Heart Disease?

ANALYSIS - Milk and milk products are nutritious foods integral to the nation’s diet and it is a misconception to say milk is high in fat.
calendar icon 1 April 2015
clock icon 3 minute read

The last in a series of conferences organised by the Dairy Council and Dairy Co on Dairy, Saturated Fats and Cardiovascular Disease heard that the image of all saturated fats being labelled as enemies has now been largely overturned.

Dr Anne Mullen, director of nutrition at the Dairy Council said: “Saturated fat has been seen as the bad cop. Recent research has shown that while it might not be the good cop, it is not as bad as it has been made out.

She said that not all saturated fatty acids are created equal and now saturated fat is now not being associated with coronary outcomes.

However, the link between saturated fats and coronary heart disease and type 2 diabetes remains in the minds of many people, including scientists and doctors.

Concerns about the relationship between saturated fats and heart disease date back to the 1960s.

The generally held belief has been that dietary cholesterol and saturated fats contribute to LDL cholesterol in the blood.

And because of the connection authorities such as the USDA have included recommendations about dietary cholesterol in in their dietary guidelines.

However, new research is starting to show that saturated fats might not have the harmful effect of increasing coronary heart disease through increasing cholesterol as once thought.

Dr Scott Harding from Kings College said that there are a number of saturated fatty acids that have no effect on LDL cholesterol.

He said that the relationship between saturated fats and LDL cholesterol and between LDL and coronary heart disease have to be examined as it is not known if it is a specific amount that bears a relationship or the percentage in the blood.

He said that it was necessary to look at all the food in the diet.

Prof Marianne Geleijnse from the University of Wageningen said that studies have shown that total dairy consumption both high fat and low fat products together are not associated with coronary heart disease and indeed cheese is shown to be a risk reducer and people who consumed between 200ml and 400ml of milk a day are shown to have reduced their risk of heart disease and stroke.

Prof Philippe Legrande from INRA in France said that fatty acids are nutrients and as the body converts sugars, starch and alcohol into fatty acids it was wrong to define them as enemies.

He said that it is impossible to examine saturated fatty acids as a group as they needed to be examines according to their functions.

“They are not bad guys, they are not villains. It is just a question of amount,” he told the conference.

“They all have their functions.”

He said that out of all the saturated fatty acids three – lauric, myristic and palmitic (C12, C14 and C16) – were the ones that are linked to cardiovascular disease.

He said that the structure, metabolism and function of these saturated fatty acids has to be examined and he added that when foods that are high in one of the main saturated fatty acids associated with heart disease, palmitic acid, is are considered dairy products are not among them.

Prof Ian Givens from Reading University said that studies had also shown that a greater intake of milk helps to reduce high blood pressure and the calcium in the dairy products could be seen to modify the cholesterol and reduce fat absorption

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