Heart Disease

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Heart Smart Living

Cardiologist, author, and heart health expert Dr. Sarah Samaan offers advice on how to live a heart smart life.

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Say Cheese! A Bit of Good News about Dairy Fat

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Cheese and wine.For anyone seeking to improve their heart health, full-fat dairy products have become all but taboo thanks to their bounty of saturated fat. Seemingly paradoxically, several studies in the past few years have suggested that dairy consumption may actually improve the body’s response to insulin, reducing the risk for diabetes, and, consequently, heart disease.

Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian and colleagues at the Harvard School of Public Health set out to clarify the situation, by analyzing blood samples of over 3,500 adults who were enrolled in the Cardiovascular Health Study and followed for about 14 years. The blood was tested for the presence of trans-palmitoleate (T-P), a fatty acid that comes from dairy foods. Unlike the artificially produced evil trans fats that are found in partially hydrogenated oils, like hard margarine and some forms of vegetable shortening, T-P is produced naturally by cows and other ruminant animals.

The results were published in the Annals of Internal Medicine in December 2010. Those people with higher levels of T-P, indicating that they ate more full-fat dairy foods, had less than half the incidence of diabetes as those who ate minimal amounts. They also had better lipid profiles and lower blood CRP, indicating less inflammation. Surprisingly, their body fat measurements were a little lower than average.

This study doesn’t give us free rein to chow down on the cheese, but it does tell us that full-fat dairy foods, when enjoyed in moderation, can be part of a heart healthy lifestyle. For optimal heart health, saturated fat should be limited to 20 grams per day or less. Cheese has about 5 grams per ounce, so as long as you limit saturated fat elsewhere (by avoiding or limiting red meat and snack foods high in saturated fat), cheese and other dairy foods are no longer out of the question.

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Tags: Diet and Heart Health

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About the Author


MD, FACC

Dr. Samaan is an acclaimed cardiologist, writer, and heart health educator.

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