A 20-year Finnish observational study suggests eating fermented dairy products could protect you against heart disease. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 610,000 Americans die of heart disease each year, accounting for 1 in 4 deaths. 1
Despite public skepticism about the potential adverse health effects of dairy products — reflected in an increasing intake of plant-based drinks like almond, rice and soy — scientific evidence continues to validate the many positive nutritional benefits of dairy products.
Researchers are especially calling attention to the health benefits of fermented dairy foods such as kefir and yogurt. Personally, I am a fan of raw, organic grass fed dairy products such as butter and yogurt. Given the high amounts of healthy fats they contain, raw, organic grass fed dairy can be particularly beneficial if you follow a cyclical ketogenic diet.
Finnish Study Validates the Nutritional Benefits of Fermented Dairy
In a new study published in the British Journal of Nutrition, 2 researchers from the University of Eastern Finland highlight the nutritional benefits of fermented dairy, suggesting eating kefir, yogurt and other fermented dairy products may protect you against heart disease.
For clarity, the distinguishing factor between traditional dairy and fermented dairy is the presence of live bacteria, such as is added to milk to create yogurt. The team assessed data involving 1,981 men, ages 42 to 60 years old, taking part in the 1980s-era Kuopio Ischaemic Heart Disease Risk Factor Study with a mean 20-year follow-up.
Their objective was to investigate whether fermented and unfermented dairy products are associated with the risk of incident coronary heart disease (CHD) in a population characterized by a high dairy intake. Though none of the participants had heart disease at the inception of the original study, 472 later experienced some type of coronary heart event.
“Our findings and those from other studies suggest fermented dairy products may have health benefits compared to nonfermented dairy,” study author Jyrki Virtanen, Ph.D., associate professor of nutritional epidemiology at the University of Eastern Finland, told Newsweek. “Therefore, it might be a good idea to use more fermented dairy, such as yogurt, kefir, quark (a type of creamy cheese) and sour milk.” 3
According to Medical Xpress, 4 the research was based on food diaries kept by the study participants, who were divided into groups based on the amounts of dairy products they consumed. When Virtanen and his team compared the groups with the highest and lowest consumption, while adjusting for various lifestyle and nutrition factors, they found: 5 , 6
- Participants consuming the highest amounts of fermented dairy products had an incident risk of CHD 27 percent lower than their counterparts in the lowest consumption group
- Consumption of high-fat fermented dairy products like cheese was not associated with increased risk of incident CHD
- Very high consumption (defined as average daily consumption of 0.9 liters, or just under 4 cups) of unfermented milk was associated with an increased CHD incident risk
“Some of the beneficial effects of fermented dairy products may relate to their impact on the gut microbiota,” Virtanen added. 7 Because the study was observational, he acknowledged it can’t be used to prove the intake of fermented dairy products actually cuts your risk of cardiovascular events.
“The next step would be to start randomized clinical trials, where … health effects of fermented and nonfermented dairy products are compared.” 8
Consuming Milk and Cheese May Lower Your Risk of Heart Disease and Stroke
Separate research, conducted earlier in 2018, found consuming dairy products such as milk and cheese could lower your risk of heart disease and stroke. Study author Marcia Otto, Ph.D., assistant professor of epidemiology, human genetics and environmental sciences at University of Texas Health (UTHealth) school of public health, said in a statement:
"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." 9
In the study, which was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition and funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Otto and her team measured the blood levels of three dairy-based fatty acids in 2,907 adults ages 65 and older. Measurements were taken when the study began in 1992 and again six and 13 years later. Among the outcomes, the researchers found: 10 , 11
- None of the fatty acids were linked to a higher risk of dying
- One fatty acid was linked to a lower risk of dying from cardiovascular disease
- Participants with higher levels of fatty acids, which may have stemmed from their consumption of dairy products, had a 42 percent lower risk of death by stroke
"Consumers have been exposed to so much different and conflicting information about diet, particularly in relation to fats," says Otto. "It’s therefore important to have robust studies, so people can make more balanced and informed choices based on scientific fact rather than hearsay." 12
Beyond that, a 2017 meta-analysis of 29 studies involving more than 938,000 participants, published in the European Journal of Epidemiology, 13 indicated the consumption of dairy products such as cheese, milk and yogurt had a neutral effect on health.
Study author Sarah Guo, Ph.D., U.K. University of Reading, said in a statement: "This latest analysis provides further evidence that a diet that is high in dairy foods is not necessarily damaging to health.” Guo also noted “the potentially beneficial effect of fermented dairy on heart health.” 14
Dairy Consumption Does Not Contribute to Cancer, Obesity or Type 2 Diabetes
Based on meta-analyses and randomized controlled trials about the impact of dairy with respect to health conditions such as cancer, obesity and Type 2 diabetes, authors of a 2016 European study published in the journal Food & Nutrition Research found mostly positive or neutral associations.
Based on their extensive review of scientific evidence gathered from previous research, they offered insights about the influence of dairy on the following health conditions: 15
All-cause mortality — Consumption of milk and dairy products was not associated with all-cause mortality
Cancer — Dairy intake was inversely associated with bladder, breast, colorectal and gastric cancer and was not associated with the risk of lung, ovarian or pancreatic cancer. Evidence about dairy and prostate cancer risk was inconsistent.
Cardiovascular disease — Dairy consumption has been associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease
Obesity — Recent evidence suggests the use of dairy products was linked to reduced risk of childhood obesity, whereas intake of dairy products by adults was shown to “improve body composition and facilitate weight loss during energy restriction.” 16
Osteoporosis — Evidence suggested a beneficial effect of dairy on bone mineral density, with no association with respect to bone fracture risk
Type 2 diabetes — Intake of dairy products was associated with a neutral or reduced risk of Type 2 diabetes
In conclusion, the study authors stated, “The totality of available scientific evidence supports that intake of milk and dairy products contribute to meet nutrient recommendations, and may protect against the most prevalent chronic diseases, whereas very few adverse effects have been reported.” 17
What Is the Best Milk for You?
The easiest way to determine the best milk for you is to listen to your body. If you feel ill after drinking dairy milk, chances are good you may suffer from lactose intolerance, a casein allergy or another type of dairy sensitivity. Rather than eat and drink illness on yourself, your best strategy is to simply avoid traditional dairy products.
Keep in mind that many who believe they cannot drink regular cow’s milk actually do fine when drinking raw, organic grass fed milk, which is far easier on your digestive system. Raw, organic grass fed A2-only milk may be even better.
Replacing milk and other dairy products with nondairy substitutes is a matter of personal choice. If you don’t miss drinking and eating milk-based products such as cheese, ice cream and yogurt and can obtain requisite nutrients from other foods, you can easily forgo nondairy alternatives.
However, if you cannot imagine life without eating certain types of foods — like ice cream or yogurt, for example — then by all means, find a substitute. If you do choose substitutes, I advise you to read labels carefully to avoid artificial ingredients and toxic amounts of added sugar.
Very especially, do not choose substitutes containing soy because most of that crop is genetically engineered (GE). With respect to ice cream for example, choosing a coconut-based substitute would be a better choice than one made with soy.
Regardless of the type of “milk” and “milk-based” beverages and foods you choose, be sure you are consuming enough calcium, protein and other vital nutrients from either dairy or nondairy sources.
Raw Milk: A Source of Superior Nutrition and Taste
If you are able to tolerate cow’s milk, I highly recommend you drink raw organic milk from organic, grass fed animals. Once your taste buds acclimate to it, you are sure to enjoy the thick, creamy taste and many beneficial nutrients raw milk provides, including calcium. High-quality raw milk provides other health benefits, such as:
- “Good” bacteria that line and protect your gastrointestinal tract
- Beneficial amino acids, proteins and omega-3 fats
- More than 60 digestive enzymes that make raw milk very digestible (these enzymes are destroyed in milk that is pasteurized, making it harder for your body to process pasteurized milk)
- Healthy unoxidized cholesterol
The best raw, unpasteurized milk comes from healthy cows raised on open pasture. In that setting, cows are free from herbicides and other toxic chemicals known to negatively affect the quality and taste of the final product. It’s best to source your milk from a local organic farm. You can locate a provider near you through the Weston A. Price Foundation’s Campaign for Real Milk .
If you’re new to raw milk, keep in mind the appearance of grass fed organic milk is quite different from the milk you may have purchased from the grocery store. Carotenoids in the grass give it a yellowish color.
Though it may look more like cream than milk, raw milk is one of the healthiest beverages around. Not only is it nutritionally much better for you than the pasteurized variety, its taste is also far superior.
Yogurt Shown to Boost Metabolism, Reduce Inflammation and More
In multiple studies, researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW-Madison) have underscored the nutritional value of yogurt. Not only can a premeal serving of yogurt boost your postmeal metabolism, but yogurt has also been found to reduce inflammation.
About the 2018 results published in The Journal of Nutrition, 18 involving 120 premenopausal women, half of whom were obese, Ruisong Pei, a UW-Madison food science postdoctoral researcher, said, "Eating 8 ounces of low-fat yogurt before a meal is a feasible strategy to improve postmeal metabolism and thus may help reduce the risk of cardiovascular and metabolic diseases." 19
Earlier work by the UW-Madison team, published in 2017 in the British Journal of Nutrition, 20 based on the analysis of blood samples from the same participant group, highlighted yogurt’s anti-inflammatory activity.
Specifically, inflammatory markers such as TNF-alpha, an important inflammation-activating protein, were significantly reduced in the women who ate yogurt. Beyond boosting your metabolism and reducing inflammation, yogurt consumption has also been linked to heart health.
Specifically, a 2018 study published in the American Journal of Hypertension links higher yogurt consumption to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease among men and women with high blood pressure — one of the primary risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Higher intakes of yogurt were associated with: 21 , 22
- A 30 percent reduction in heart attack risk among women
- A 19 percent reduction in heart attack risk for men
- A 16 percent lower risk of undergoing revascularization for women
- About a 20 percent lower risk of major CHD or stroke during the follow-up period for participants who consumed more than two servings of yogurt a week
- Greater reductions in cardiovascular risk among hypertensive men and women when higher yogurt consumption was combined with an overall heart-healthy diet
Boost Your Health With Homemade Yogurt
Beyond the fact it contains healthy milk-derived nutrients like calcium, phosphorus, potassium, riboflavin and vitamin A, traditional homemade yogurt is a fermented food known to promote gut and heart health. It is also a nutrient-dense food rich in high-quality protein, beneficial probiotics and cancer-fighting conjugated linoleic acid.
If you haven’t yet considered making your own yogurt, perhaps you don’t realize how easy it is to do. All you need is a high-quality starter culture and raw, organic grass fed milk. Fortunately, there are many excellent starter cultures available online or from your local health food store.
Whatever you do, do not use sweetened commercial yogurt as your source for the starter culture because it contains too much sugar and too few live cultures to be effective. Because bacterial cultures are temperature sensitive, the trick to making good yogurt is keeping the milk/culture starter mixture at a consistently warm temperature until it has had sufficient time to ferment.
Using a dehydrator is an excellent way to control the temperature to promote fermentation. While the consistency won’t be quite the same as store-bought yogurt, making homemade yogurt affords you control over the ingredients you use. For more tips, check out “ How to Make Fresh Homemade Yogurt .”
When yogurt and other fermented dairy products become a regular part of your diet, you will not only give your digestive tract the beneficial bacteria it needs for optimal functioning, but you may — as noted in the new research — lower your risk of heart disease, too.
However, there’s been confusion, lost context and misinformation in regard to consumption of saturated fat, including that found in dairy products, not only in the general public but by the medical community, which is most likely why Mozaffarian was prompted to add, “Our findings, measuring biomarkers of fatty acids consumed in dairy fat, suggest a need to reexamine the potential metabolic benefits of dairy fat or foods rich in dairy fat, such as cheese.”4