Because regular-fat dairy products are a major source of cholesterol-raising saturated fatty acids (SFAs), current US and Canadian dietary guidelines for cardiovascular health recommend the consumption of low-fat dairy products. Yet, numerous randomized controlled trials (RCTs) have reported rather mixed effects of reduced- and regular-fat dairy consumption on blood lipid concentrations and on many other cardiometabolic disease risk factors, such as blood pressure and inflammation markers. Thus, the focus on low-fat dairy in current dietary guidelines is being challenged, creating confusion within health professional circles and the public. This narrative review provides perspective on the research pertaining to the impact of dairy consumption and dairy fat on traditional and emerging cardiometabolic disease risk factors. This comprehensive assessment of evidence from RCTs suggests that there is no apparent risk of potential harmful effects of dairy consumption, irrespective of the content of dairy fat, on a large array of cardiometabolic variables, including lipid-related risk factors, blood pressure, inflammation, insulin resistance, and vascular function. This suggests that the purported detrimental effects of SFAs on cardiometabolic health may in fact be nullified when they are consumed as part of complex food matrices such as those in cheese and other dairy foods. Thus, the focus on low-fat dairy products in current guidelines apparently is not entirely supported by the existing literature and may need to be revisited on the basis of this evidence. Future studies addressing key research gaps in this area will be extremely informative to better appreciate the impact of dairy food matrices, as well as dairy fat specifically, on cardiometabolic health.
Keywords: apolipoprotein B; blood pressure; cheese; cholesterol; dairy; inflammation; milk; triglyceride; yogurt.
© 2016 American Society for Nutrition.