Saturated fats, dairy foods and cardiovascular health: No longer a curious paradox?

Nutr Bull. 2022 Dec;47(4):407-422. doi: 10.1111/nbu.12585. Epub 2022 Oct 26.


Cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) are a major cause of death and morbidity in many parts of the world, and many dietary guidelines limit the intake of saturated fatty acids (SFA) as they are regarded as an important risk factor for CVDs due to their association with increased blood cholesterol. Dairy foods are often a major contributor to dietary intake of SFA, and since many dietary guidelines contain restrictions on SFA intake, this can lead to a moderation of dairy food intake despite meta-analyses generally showing dairy to have a neutral or negative association with CVDs. Many prospective studies and randomised controlled trials do not support a simple positive association between SFA intake and the risk of atherosclerotic CVD and its components although some early studies had a number of methodological weakness. Studies that included blood cholesterol data do broadly support the positive relationship between SFA and blood low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C) but without increased CVD risk resulting, despite LDL being a causal factor in atherosclerotic CVD. These data suggest that LDL-C alone is not a consistently good predictor or cause of CVD risk, perhaps particularly in relation to dairy food consumption although some non-dairy food studies have also shown LDL-C reduction was not reflected in reduced CVD risk. This narrative review examines some reasons for these findings. Overall, restrictions on dairy food intake do not seem warranted, although there remains a need to further understand the association of different dairy food types with chronic diseases, perhaps particularly for type 2 diabetes.

Keywords: cardiovascular diseases; cholesterol; dairy products; fatty acids; milk; saturated fat.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Atherosclerosis / epidemiology
  • Cardiovascular Diseases* / epidemiology
  • Cholesterol, LDL
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2
  • Dietary Fats* / adverse effects
  • Fatty Acids* / adverse effects
  • Humans
  • Prospective Studies


  • Cholesterol, LDL
  • Dietary Fats
  • Fatty Acids