Eating Cheese Is Not Bad for Heart Health: Study

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Go ahead — indulge in a cheese plate. And enjoy that glass of two percent milk. It’s not going to harm your heart.

That’s according to a massive study that may finally separate fact from fiction once and for all.

Credit: Darren Cowley/Flickr, CC0 1.0

A meta-analysis of 29 studies performed all over the world concluded that dairy products had a “neutral” effect on cardiovascular health.

Not even dairy products loaded with fat seemed to increase the risk of a stroke or heart attack, the researchers noted.

The study, conducted by researchers at England’s Reading University, Copenhagen University in Denmark and Wageningen University in the Netherlands, analyzed data from nearly a million patients. It was published in the European Journal of Epidemiology.

“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,” researcher Ian Givens of Reading told The Guardian newspaper of London.

Related: Dairy-Free Diets Could Harm Young People’s Bone Health

“This meta-analysis…demonstrated neutral associations between dairy products and cardiovascular and all-cause mortality,” the researchers reported in their abstract.

United States Department of Agriculture (USA) guidelines call for about three cups of dairy products daily for adults. The USDA recommends consumers choose low-fat or fat-free milk, yogurt and cheese.

Some people do not digest dairy products well, creating more demonic stories on the web about milk, yogurt and cheese. While lactose intolerance is very real, modified dairy products are available that, for some lactose-intolerant people, take the distress out of dairy.

Others, however, cannot consume dairy under any circumstances. Those people are encouraged to get the calcium they need from other sources, including kale leaves and other leafy greens, calcium-fortified breads and cereals, and canned fish.

Related: Vitamin D Deficiency May Cause Early Menopause

In the UK, several public health agencies immediately took issue with the study.

“Dairy products form an important part of a healthy balanced diet; however, many are high in saturated fat and salt. We’re all consuming too much of both, increasing our risk of heart disease,” a spokesman for Public Health England told The Guardian. “We recommend choosing lower-fat varieties of milk and dairy products or eating smaller amounts to reduce saturated fat and salt in the diet.”

It’s important to note that three large dairy groups funded the study: Global Dairy Platform, Dairy Research Institute and Dairy Australia. The paper claimed the funders had no influence over the research, however.

A professional journalist nearly 30 years, David Heitz started his career at the Quad-City Times in Davenport, Iowa before moving to Los Angeles. He led the Glendale News-Press to best small daily newspaper in the state (CNPA) as managing editor and also worked as executive news editor of the Press-Telegram. He worked briefly as deputy news editor of the Detroit News before returning to the Quad-Cities, where he has worked as a freelance medical writer since 2012 for several national websites. He recently purchased his childhood home and says he truly is “living the dream.”