The health war against cheese may be completely misguided

Business Insider US

  • Cheese lovers, rejoice.
  • There's new evidence that the saturated fat found in cheese, milk, and other kinds of dairy is not tied to an increased risk of heart problems or death from any cause.
  • The study falls in line with increasing evidence that the fat in our diets is not the villain when it comes to negative health outcomes and weight gain.

Cheese lovers, rejoice. There's new evidence that the saturated fat found in cheese, milk, and other kinds of dairy is not tied to an increased risk of heart problems or death from any cause.

The study, published this month in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found that people who regularly indulged in cheese, whole milk, and other full-fat dairy products did not face a higher risk of heart attack, stroke, or death from any cause compared to people who avoided the products. 

The paper is the latest in a series of recent studies that together suggest fat is not the health villain that it's long been portrayed to be. Instead, sugar and simple carbs may be a much bigger issue. Such findings runs contrary to the dominant belief that eating rich foods like butter and cheese is a bad habit that should be broken.

For the study, the researchers looked at nearly 3,000 adults over 22 years and measured the levels of dairy fats in their blood to estimate their intake of cheese and other high-fat products.

"Our findings not only support, but also significantly strengthen, the growing body of evidence which suggests that dairy fat, contrary to popular belief, does not increase risk of heart disease or overall mortality in older adults," Marcia Otto, the study's lead author and an assistant professor at the University of Texas School of Public Health, said in a statement.

Dietary guidelines still tell people to avoid fat

More and more research is pointing out an unfortunate truth about the world of nutrition: many common beliefs are based on shoddy or non-existent science.

Plenty of people continue to believe that eating eggs gives you high cholesterol, that orange juice is part of a complete breakfast, or that fatty foods make you fat — despite evidence that has disproven these myths.

I was no exception — I grew up with two health-conscious parents and believed all high-fat foods were bad for you. Our fridge was stocked with margarine; low-fat or fat-free milk were the only kinds I drank; and the cereal bars I ate as a kid gleamed with "low-fat" labels.

Yet an increasing body of evidence indicates that when eaten in isolation, fat doesn't contribute to weight gain. Many official dietary guidelines, however, have been slow to adapt to these findings.

In its Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the US Department of Agriculture still advises people against consuming many full-fat products, while encouraging people to eat items like cereals, bread, and other refined grains. And when it comes to dairy, the guidelines are explicit about the kind you should eat: fat-free or low-fat.

The American Heart Association also still recommends limiting saturated fats and specifically calls out cheese other animal-based foods for their potential to raise levels of “bad” cholesterol and contribute to heart problems.

The real culprits may be sugar and refined carbs

Recent research has suggested that unlike fats, refined carbohydrates and sugars do appear to be tied to packing on the kilos.  

Take, for example, a large recent review of studies published in the journal The Lancet. For the study, scientists compared more than 135,000 people in 18 countries on either low-fat or low-carb diets. People on the low-fat diets were more likely to die from any cause; they were also at a greater risk of death from heart attacks and heart disease. By contrast, people on the low-carb plans had significantly lower risk of both of these outcomes.

In light of their findings, the authors of the paper concluded, "global dietary guidelines should be reconsidered."

Such results have fuelled the popularity of the ketogenic diet, which emphasises foods like meat, butter, and bacon and cuts nearly all carbs, including those from many fruits. 

This newest study adds to the growing body of evidence undermining the old wisdom about fats. Maybe nutritionists should never have told people to stop eating fat in the first place.

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