A new study brings good news to those who love dairy – the results found those who ate more dairy on average (even high fat dairy products) had lower body fat percentages, and lower BMIs.
The research is counter-intuitive to what we all learn – higher fat dairy products such as butter, cheese, and cream are high in saturated fats and should be eaten as ‘sometimes foods‘ if you want to be healthy.
Plus, having too much LDL cholesterol in your blood increases the risk of heart disease and heart attacks – around 10,000 Irish people die from those diseases every year and the rates are similar around the world.
But this new research, undertaken by the University of Dublin, Ireland, shows that cheese and other high fat dairy products might not be the culprit.
“What we saw was that in the high consumers [of cheese] they had a significantly higher intake of saturated fat than the non-consumers and the low consumers and yet there was no difference in their LDL Cholesterol levels,” said Emma Feeney, the lead researcher on the paper.
The study looked at 1,500 people in Ireland between 18 and 90-years-old over a four-day period.
The researchers looked at their level of dairy intake on those days, what type of dairy they were consuming, and whether it was low fat or full fat options.
“‘High’ consumers of total dairy, after adjustment for energy intake, gender, age, social class and smoking, had significantly lower BMI and percentage body fat, a lower waist circumference, and a higher insulin sensitivity score compared with ‘low’ consumers,” the researchers write in their paper.
The researchers also found that although those who consumed the most yogurt had the lowest body fat, the highest consumers of cheese didn’t have any differences in markers for metabolic health.
But as the cherry on the cake the researchers found that total cholesterol was “lower in the ‘Whole milk’ and ‘Butter and cream’ clusters than in the ‘Reduced milk and yogurt’ cluster”.
That means that those consuming the lower fat versions of their favourite dairy products had higher cholesterol.
So what the hell is going on here? Is it just the luck of the Irish, or should we all start sculling full cream milk and cheese for our health?
Well, probably not – but the truth is it’s really damn complicated.
Correlation doesn’t equal causation – so we might find that those eating lower-fat foods might also be eating something else that causes them to have higher cholesterol.
Plus the researchers had the participants keep food diaries, meaning that there was no real way to tell if foods could have been missed or excluded – and food diaries tend to make people change their eating habits.
“We have to consider not just the nutrients themselves but also the matrix in which we are eating them in and what the overall dietary pattern is, so not just about the food then, but the pattern of other foods we eat with them as well,” said Feeney.
So right now the jury is out. Scientists will need more studies over longer time frames and with more diverse groups to be able to get a better picture of exactly what is happening when we enjoy cheddar or some butter on our toast.
But for the moment, lets savour this, and enjoy a wedge of brie or gouda without feeling too guilty.
The research has been published in Nutrition & Diabetes.