As latest research questions conventional dietary recommendations on dairy foods due to the properties of dairy fats, fermented dairy products such as yogurt, cheese and kefir, could prove to be a healthy choice for protecting against cardiovascular disease (CVD).
Dairy foods have long been believed to increase the risk of CVD due to their fats content and their association with increased cholesterol levels. In response, dietary guidelines in Western countries recommend limiting full-fat dairy products in favour of low-fat versions.
However, with recent evidence suggesting that systemic inflammation is the key biochemical driver of atherosclerosis and damage to the heart muscle, this advice and the science underlying it are now under debate, according to the authors of this review article.
High saturated fatty acid intake may not cause harmful cholesterol levels
Question marks have been raised over the science that suggested a causal relationship between a high intake of saturated fatty acids (SFA), high LDL-cholesterol, atherosclerosis and coronary heart disease.
Indeed, the authors say, despite high levels of SFAS, full-fat dairy foods have positive or at least neutral effects on cardiovascular health, while also contributing to higher intakes of nutrients such as vitamins D and K.
The focus is shifting to consider the effect of the fermented dairy food matrix on cardiovascular health
Research has moved away from focusing on single nutrients, such as saturated fat, towards considering the food matrix, the nutrient and non-nutrient components of foods and how they interact and affect body chemistry.
Researchers are also trying to pin down the specific effects of different types of dairy foods, including fermented products, such as yogurt, cheese and kefir, on cardiovascular health.
Fermented dairy products such as yogurt may hold potential benefits for cardiovascular health
Although fermented dairy products are often linked with gut health, they also appear to benefit cardiometabolic health, which encompasses cardiovascular and metabolic diseases, including type 2 diabetes (T2D) and the metabolic syndrome.
Higher consumption of cheese, yogurt and kefir is linked with lower levels of LDL-cholesterol and blood pressure, together with a lower risk of T2D, stroke and coronary heart disease (CHD). These potential benefits may increase the more you consume.
Yogurt in particular is associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular diseases (CVD)
Yogurts in particular, with their diverse assortment of different bioactive, nutrient-rich compounds, especially when consumed with fruit, have been linked with a reduced risk of CVD, diabetes and metabolic syndrome – i.e. high blood pressure, high blood glucose, large waist circumference and abnormal blood fats.
Choose fermented dairy products to optimise nutrient intake and potential cardiovascular health benefits
Exactly how fermented foods influence risk factors for CVD is yet to be uncovered. However, it is thought that probiotics and vitamin K2, which are both present in fermented dairy foods, may play a part.
The fermentation process itself may also have a role as it leads to changes in the structure of fats and proteins. These may account for some of the observed effects. There may also be benefits of full-fat dairy consumption based on higher bioavailability of high-value nutrients and anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
Hence while full-fat dairy products can continue to be consumed in moderation as part of a healthy balanced lifestyle, choosing fermented dairy products is most likely to optimise nutrient intake and potential cardiovascular health benefits.
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