Is whole milk worse for your heart than cheese? Study

By Flora Southey

- Last updated on GMT


Related tags Milk cheese Dairy Denmark

Researchers in Denmark have found that whole milk intake is associated with a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease. The same could not be said for cheese, however.

Saturated fat has developed a bad reputation due to associations between increased consumption and risk of ischemic heart disease (IHD). As a result, national dietary guidelines often recommend populations decrease their intake.

The UK Government, for example, recommends unsaturated fats be selected. “As part of a healthy diet, you should try to cut down foods and drinks that are high in saturated fats and trans fats and replace some of them with unsaturated fats,” ​advises the NHS.

It’s a similar story in Denmark, where the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration (DVFA) dietary guidelines, published in 2013, recommend Danes ‘eat less saturated fat’ and ‘choose low-fat dietary products’. This is due to low-fat variants’ reduced content of saturated fat when compared to high-fat variants.

However, in recent years, nutritional advice has shifted. More research has focused on the effects of consuming whole foods, suggesting that nutrients and biologically active components – as well as the physical structure of food (for example solid vs liquid) – should be taken into account.

Researchers in Denmark have therefore sought to investigate links between dairy products and the development of cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome. A review of available scientific literature could serve to update DVFA’s recommendation of dairy consumption.

Whole milk fares poorer than cheese

The researchers analysed systematic reviews and meta-analyses concerning consumption of conventional, high-fat, and low-fat versions of milk, yoghurt, and cheese. Butter studies were also analysed.

Relevant outcomes included IHD, peripheral artery disease, ischemic stroke, and haemorrhagic stroke.

Findings revealed that whole milk is associated with a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Overall, however, the literature suggested that intake of yoghurt, cheese, butter and low-fat milk is associated with lower or no risk of development of cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome.

The researchers also sought to determine whether intake of skim milk and intake of cheese with different fat contents played a role in increased public health risks, however concluded there was insufficient data to draw conclusions.

More population studies wanted

Given that whole milk was found to be associated with a higher risk of development cardiovascular disease, but cheese was not, could it be that the structure of food – i.e solid vs liquid – played a role?

No, according to Marianne Uhre Jakobsen, study author and lecturer at the Technical University of Denmark (DTU). “But it is possible that the health effects of nutrients vary depending on the food source – including the physical structure of food,” ​she told FoodNavigator.

The researchers suggested more population surveys would help provide more concrete conclusions. Specifically, the scientists want studies that investigate differences between men and women, because in high-low meta-analysis, for example, they found a higher intake of cheese is associated with lower risk of IHD among women, but not among men.

Source:Nature Research
‘Intake of dairy products and associations with major atherosclerotic cardiovascular diseases: a systematic review and meta-analysis of cohort studies’
Published online 14 January 2021
Authors: Marianne Uhre Jakobsen, Ellen Trolle, Malene Outzen, Heddie Mejborn, Manja G. Grønberg, Christian Bøge Lyndgaard, Anders Stockmarr, Stine K. Venø and Anette Bysted.

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