Eating cheese does not increase risk of heart attack or strokes, say researchers

Denis Balibouse | Reuters

The belief that consuming too much cheese is harmful to your health is wrong, according to experts, after finding no link between eating dairy products and the elevated risk of a heart attack or stroke.

The findings challenge the view among many health-conscious eaters that foodstuffs such as full-fat cheese, milk and yogurts could be harmful because of their high saturated fat content.

"There's been a lot of publicity over the last five to 10 years about how saturated fats increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and a belief has grown up that they must increase the risk, but they don't," Ian Givens, professor of food chain nutrition at Reading University, told The Guardian newspaper on Tuesday.

An international team of researchers, including Givens, analyzed results from 29 different medical studies carried out over the last 35 years, using information based on almost 1 million participants. The team's findings were published in the European Journal of Epidemiology.

"There's quite a widespread but mistaken belief among the public that dairy products in general can be bad for you, but that's a misconception. While it is a widely held belief, our research shows that that's wrong," Givens added.

'Unhelpful and misleading'

Experts are divided as to whether reducing the amount of saturated fats in one's diet could improve overall health and decrease the risk of heart disease.

Mike Knapton, doctor and associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation (BHF), described such claims made about saturated fats as "unhelpful and misleading."

"Decades of research have proved that a diet rich in saturated fat increases 'bad' (LDL) cholesterol in your blood, which puts you at greater risk of a heart attack or stroke," Knapton said in a statement published on the BHF website.

Meanwhile, the U.K. National Health Service (NHS) also advises consumers to reduce the amount of saturated fats they eat because high levels of these same fats can increase cholesterol in the blood and subsequently raise the risk of cardiovascular disease.