The recently published study disproving the generally accepted notion that high-fat dairy products — such as cheese, butter and milk — are harmful to the heart has sparked a heated debate over the health benefits and disadvantages of saturated fat.
The research, conducted by the Reading University in Great Britain in collaboration with Copenhagen University in Denmark and Wageningen University in the Netherlands, documents that full-fat dairy doesn't increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Despite the new evidence, some health experts remain unconvinced and caution people to continue avoiding saturated fats as much as possible.
Arguments In Favor Of Saturated Fat
After examining data from 29 previous studies, involving a total of more than 900,000 participants and carried out in the span of 35 years, the British researchers couldn't find any link between high-fat dairy consumption and heart disease.
In fact, the team discovered that a high-fat diet can be beneficial to health. According to their study, fermented dairy products can actually curb the risk of cardiovascular disease, albeit to a modest extent.
The scientists argued that avoiding dairy altogether can have a negative impact on health.
They showed that the misconception about saturated fat has led parents to restrict their children's consumption of full-fat milk, depriving them of the highly necessary calcium it contains.
Moreover, they explain the same reason has persuaded pregnant women to give up milk, cheese, and yogurt, exposing their unborn babies to the risk of developing neurological disorders in the womb.
Saturated Fat And The Impact On Cholesterol Levels
This isn't the only study to attest the health benefits of saturated fat.
A paper published last year in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition offered proof that eating more naturally high-fat food, including dairy, doesn't up "bad" cholesterol levels — or low-density lipoprotein (LDL) — as long as the carbohydrates intake is restricted.
"It's not the fat per se, or on its own, that's driving a negative health response. You can have just as good a health benefit on this high-fat diet as a low-fat diet in this context," explained lead author Simon Dankel, from the University of Bergen in Norway.
Until the study's publication it was widely believed that saturated fat boosts LDL cholesterol levels, thereby increasing cardiovascular risk.
However, the 2016 research rebutted this theory and revealed that a saturated fat diet actually raises "good" cholesterol levels — or high-density lipoprotein (HDL) — provided the calorie intake is kept in check.
The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines released at the beginning of 2016 recommends that saturated fats should account for less than 10 percent of the daily calorie intake.
Arguments Against Saturated Fat
Soon after the Reading University study was published, British government health advisers asserted the results were not to be trusted and stated that saturated fat should be avoided.
To support their claim against full-fat dairy products, they argued these foods contain high amounts of not only saturated fat, but also sodium, both of which are harmful to overall health and the heart in particular.
The British Heart Foundation backed these allegations, pointing to the numerous studies that link a diet rich in saturated fat with elevated levels of LDL cholesterol and, subsequently, a higher risk of heart disease and stroke.
In addition, saturated fat has a negative impact on metabolism, as shown in a study from the German Diabetes Center and the Helmholtz Center published this February.
The research uncovered a high-fat diet leads to more cases of type 2 diabetes and obesity, while also contributing to fatty liver disease among overweight people.
Keep in mind that the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines' key recommendations emphasize a healthy eating pattern includes fat-free or low-fat dairy. This suggestion applies to milk, yogurt, cheese, as well as fortified soy beverages.