Go ahead and eat that brie—guilt-free—because a very large analysis of studies says that, despite popular belief, dairy is not bad for your heart. Researchers in the United Kingdom came to this conclusion after reviewing 29 prospective cohort studies (basically a group of participants were studied over a long period of time) representing roughly one million people and 93,000 deaths.
In doing so, the team found that cardiovascular problems, such as strokes or heart disease, and death were not linked to diets high in dairy.
"This latest analysis provides further evidence that a diet that is high in dairy foods is not necessarily damaging to health,” says study co-author Jing Guo, nutrition scientist at the University of Reading, in a statement.
For the review, all dairy was included (high-fat, low-fat, milk, fermented, cheese and yogurt). In addition, the paper included studies dated up to September 2016 from around the world. Published now in the European Journal of Epidemiology, this was the largest analysis of population cohort studies conducted.
The biggest problem with dairy is its higher fat content, which contributes to its bad reputation. Ian Givens, another study co-author and professor of food chain nutrition at Reading University told The Guardian, “There’s been a lot of publicity over the last five to 10 years about how saturated fats increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and a belief has grown up that they must increase the risk, but they don’t.”
According to Authority Nutrition, this belief came about in the 20th century when heart disease rates picked up in the United States. Research showed that saturated fat appeared to increase cholesterol, however the health site says this was more of a hypothesis and wasn’t based on actual evidence. While saturated fat does in fact raise LDL, what we think of as bad cholesterol, it actually raises good cholesterol, HDL, too.
Harvard University explored the topic of good, bad and in-between fats in an article published by its medical school. Saturated fats are in that gray area as yes, they drive up total cholesterol, but have not been proven to increase heart disease risk. Even though saturated fats get the green light (in moderation), some believe that substituting polyunsaturated fat for saturated could be more beneficial. These are found in things like corn oil and are known as essential fats because they’re not made by your body and are necessary to function.
Of course, this new research probably won’t prevent people from being wary of fat. But it is one of the latest in a growing number of studies advocating for full-fat dairy as opposed to its sugar-filled lower fat varieties. Still, most nutrition experts don’t totally advocate for letting loose when it comes to saturated fat. Harvard University explains that most medical and nutrition experts advise limiting this in-between fat to less than 10 percent of your total daily calories.