Full-fat cheese and milk 'do not increase heart risk'
Full-fat dairy products do not increase our risk of heart attack or stroke, according to new research.
A group of experts concluded that warnings about dairy being harmful because of its high saturated-fat content is a "mistaken belief".
The team in Reading University in the UK examined 29 existing studies, involving 938,465 people.
It follows recent Irish research from UCD that suggested people who ate more cheese tended to be thinner than those who did not.
The Irish research looked at the diet of 1,500 people and found those who ate more dairy products had smaller waists and lower blood pressure.
The latest report, in the 'European Journal of Epidemiology', comes in the wake of a growing backlash against dietary advice about saturated fat being bad for us and claims it was unfairly demonised.
The UK research concluded that dairy foodstuffs have a "neutral" impact on human health.
Ian Givens, a professor of food chain nutrition at Reading University, who was one of the researchers, said: "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.
"This meta-analysis showed there were no associations between total dairy, high- and low-fat dairy, milk and the health outcomes including all-cause mortality, coronary heart disease or cardiovascular disease."
However, the Department of Health in Dublin's Food Pyramid's guide to healthy eating, launched in recent months, advised caution when it comes to milk, yoghurt and cheese.
It recommended we choose reduced-fat or low-fat varieties,
It said to opt for low-fat milk and yoghurt more often than cheese.
"Enjoy cheese in small amounts. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding need three servings a day," it said.
The dairy table is mid-way on the food pyramid.
It said the guidelines reflected best international evidence and national advice by nutritional organisations in Ireland.
"The focus is on prevention and showing how individuals can combine foods in a variety of flexible ways to achieve a balanced healthy diet to meet individual health needs, dietary preferences and cultural traditions.
"They describe how to build a healthy diet, for different age groups from five years of age, depending on gender," said Health Promotion Minister Marcella Corcoran Kennedy.
The UK researchers said young people, especially young women, are often drinking too little milk as a result of concern about full-fat versions of milk and cheese.
This can damage the development of their bones and lead to conditions in later life like osteoporosis, it said.
Pregnant women who drink too little milk could be increasing the risk of their child having a neuro-developmental difficulty that can affect the brain and stunt growth.
Irish consumers have increasingly been buying lower-fat versions of dairy products and the industry has been responding with more products.