At the heart of our mission here at Traders Point Creamery is a reverence for life and a sense of responsibility for your wellbeing. We strive to craft the kind of food that will promote your wellness and quality of life. So when it comes to full-fat dairy and heart health, we like to cut straight to the heart of the matter…
The “fat-gives-you-heart-disease” message that most of us have been taught is simply not true, according to science, and the admonition to avoid dairy fat in your diet is simply unwarranted.
In fact, one of the best things you can do for your heart might just be to give good fats and clean, full-fat dairy a more privileged place in your diet. Here are 3 compelling reasons why…
#1. Full-fat dairy improves HDL – the good cholesterol
It’s important to be discriminating when it comes to cholesterol. While the full picture can be complex, most of us are familiar by now with the distinction between LDL, the “bad” cholesterol, and HDL, the “good” type of cholesterol. While elevated LDL can potentially be problematic (again, the whole story is quite nuanced), higher levels of HDL are protective for your heart and whole cardiovascular system. So you might be encouraged to know that a study published last year in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that consuming full-fat cheese raised HDL levels – a positive shift associated with decreased risk of heart disease. And the full-fat versions did so better than the low-fat cheese varieties (source). According to Nina Teicholz, author of The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat, and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet, saturated fat (which is one type of fat in whole dairy products) is “the only kind of food that is known to increase HDL” (source). Her research shows that low-fat diets, particularly for women, cause HDL to “drop dramatically.” Not good news for heart disease risk!
#2. Full-fat dairy lowers triglycerides
Triglycerides are another type of lipid that, like cholesterol, has bearing on your cardiovascular system. Since elevated triglycerides can be cause for concern, anything that lowers their levels is generally considered a positive indicator of more robust heart health. Studies have found that dairy fat is associated with lower triglycerides – thanks in large part, scientists believe, to two fatty acids found in dairy: phytanic acid and palmitoleic acid. In one study with 2,600 American adults, palmitoleic acid was found to correlate with lower triglyceride levels as well as lower fasting insulin, lower blood pressure, and lower risk of diabetes (source) – all good things for metabolic and cardiovascular wellbeing!
#3. Full-fat dairy decreases the risk of cardiovascular disease and heart attack
This point follows logically from the other two, right? If dairy fat increases good cholesterol and decreases triglycerides, it would seem safe to conclude that it reduces your chance of suffering heart disease or a heart attack. Fortunately, we don’t even have to assume or guess! Studies have demonstrated a positive association between full-fat dairy consumption and lower risk for cardiovascular disease. A 2010 study from Australia, published in Nature journal, show that people who ate the most full-fat dairy had a 69% lower risk of heart disease, compared with those who consumed the least amount. An 8-year study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health tracked blood samples from 2,800 participants to determine how much dairy fat they had been eating. The results found that those who ate the most dairy fat were “far less likely to develop heart disease compared to those who had consumed the least” (source). In addition to lowered risk for heart disease, studies, like this one, have also linked higher full-fat dairy consumption to decreased risk for diabetes and obesity. And these are just a handful of such promising studies – as evidenced by one meta-analysis of 31 studies on full-fat dairy and cardiovascular health that found that “dairy consumption may be associated with reduced risks of cardiovascular disease.” At the very least, this conclusion indicates that dairy fat does not promote heart disease, as so many of us were told for so long. And that is heartening news indeed!
These truths about dairy fat’s beneficial impact on your heart beg the question: What is it about full-fat dairy that promotes a healthy cardiovascular system?
The scientific and medical communities still do not have a definitive answer to this question, but at least a couple components of milk are relevant here…
FATTY ACIDS – fatty acids play a multitude of roles in our bodies, but many of them do seem to be particularly critical for heart health, largely due to their anti-inflammatory properties. Whole dairy contains more than 400 unique fatty acids (source). Some are well known, like omega 3s, while others, like the phytanic and palmitoleic acid mentioned above, are more obscure. But together, they benefit our cardiovascular health – probably in even more ways than we have yet discovered.
CLA – Conjugated Linoleic Acid. This is one type of fatty acid that has been shown to promote heart health (and help fight cancer!) but it’s particularly difficult to come by in the standard modern diet. Dairy from grassfed animals (cheese in particular) is a reliable source of CLA, which is produced by ruminant animals, like cows, when they eat grass. Some breeds are even genetically predisposed to create more CLA, like the Brown Swiss cows here at our farm. So you can see why it is so important that your dairy not only be full-fat but also 100% grassfed!
We are happy to be sharing this real food journey with you as we work together for more flourishing health. And if you have been holding back on having full-fat dairy out of concern for your cardiovascular health, take heart and enjoy more whole, grassfed dairy!