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For years, experts urged adults to avoid fatladen dairy foods, including milk, to stay healthy and live longer.
But for the first time they found the reverse to be true after measuring dairy intake through levels of fatty acids in the blood.
The researchers looked for one in particular, only found in dairy, in 4,000 60-year-olds.
Scientists then tracked them for an average of 16 years to see how many had heart attacks, strokes and other serious circulatory events, and how many died.
The cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk was lowest for those with high levels of the fatty acid – reflecting a big intake of dairy fats.
They also showed no increased danger of death from other causes.
Co-author Dr Matti Marklund, of Uppsala University, Sweden, said: “While the findings may be partly influenced by factors other than dairy fat, our study does not suggest any harm of dairy fat per se.
“Although some dietary guidelines continue to suggest consumers choose low-fat dairy products, others have moved away from that advice. Instead they suggest dairy can be part of a healthy diet with an emphasis on selecting certain dairy foods – for example, yogurt rather than butter – or avoiding sweetened dairy products that are loaded with added sugar.”
Lead author Dr Kathy Trieu, of The George Institute for Global Health in Australia, added: “It is important to remember although dairy foods can be rich in saturated fat, they are also rich in many other nutrients and can be a part of a healthy diet.
“However, other fats like those found in seafood, nuts, and non-tropical vegetable oils can have greater health benefits than dairy fats.”
The study of Swedish adults – among the world’s biggest dairy consumers – was published in the journal PLOS Medicine.
The results were confirmed by pooling data from almost 43,000 people involved in 17 studies in the UK, the US and Denmark.
CVD is the world’s number one killer, claiming 18 million lives annually.
It causes around a quarter of all deaths in the UK – more than 160,000 each year.
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