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Published: September 13, 2023

In the MOO-d for cheese? Now you can be

Key takeaways

    1. Dairy has positive health effects when looking at dairy as a whole, contrary to the effects expected when looking at a single nutrient - this is due to the dairy matrix. 
    2. Different types of LDL- LDL-cholesterol exist. Dairy doesn't elevate the small particle LDL- -cholesterol (bad). 
    3. Dairy intake is linked to a decreased risk of stroke or cardiovascular disease. 
    4. Other nutrients like b-vitamins and milk fat globule phospholipids in dairy also have positive health effects. 
    5. Research suggests that full-fat dairy is essential as part of a healthy diet. 

Do you love cheese but worry about your cholesterol levels or heart health? We've got some good news for you. Dairy products like cheese, full-fat milk, and yogurt, may not be the villains we once thought them to be. In the past, doctors and dieticians cautioned against whole-fat dairy due to concerns about saturated fats, trans-fatty acids, and their roles in increasing "bad" cholesterol levels. However, recent research has been challenging these long-held beliefs, showing a completely different picture of dairy's impact on our health. This paradigm shift is thanks to a fascinating concept known as the "food matrix effect" or "the dairy matrix."

The Dairy Matrix Effect

The dairy matrix effect suggests that when we view a food product as a whole, its health impact and associations differ from when we only look at individual nutrients - think of many pieces of a great puzzle. In essence, it's about considering the entire package rather than just individual components. This concept has profound implications for our understanding of dairy and its effects on cholesterol, heart, and overall health.

Reassessing Saturated Fats and Cholesterol

Traditionally, saturated fats found in animal foods like dairy products and meats were viewed as major culprits in raising cholesterol levels and increasing the risk of heart disease. While higher saturated fat intake is associated with slightly elevated LDL cholesterol (often referred to as "bad" cholesterol), different types of cholesterol are at play. There are smaller and larger particles of the LDL / “bad” - cholesterol, the smaller ones being the main culprits in clogging blood vessels. Daiy products and animal fat, in fact, don't lead to a greater number of the more dangerous small dense LDL particles, meaning that “higher LDL” in this case, does not automatically mean your blood vessels will be clogged.

Dairy and Heart Health

What’s even more surprising, dairy foods - with emphasis on whole-fat dairy - have been found to have protective effects on heart health and on lowering the risk of stroke. In other words, dairy consumption may not have the negative effects on cardiovascular health that we once believed, but actually positive effects. There are a variety of reasons that are speculated by scientists, one being that dairy has anti-inflammatory properties (especially yogurt, kefir, and other fermented products). Inflammation is a known contributor to various chronic diseases, including heart disease. By combating inflammation, dairy may help lower the risk of cardiovascular issues. Other reasons may be due to the beneficial compounds in dairy like “good fats” (unsaturated or unbranched fats), high-quality protein, vitamins and minerals and milk fat globule phospholipids.

What are milk fat globule phospholipids (MFGP’s)

Milk fat globule phospholipids (MFGPs) are natural components found in milk, especially in whole milk. These MFGPs offer many health benefits, especially for infants, like supporting brain development and reducing the risk of infections like ear and respiratory tract infections and diarrhea. MFGPs might also help shape a healthier gut microbiome.

Conclusion: A New Perspective on Dairy

Dairy contains essential vitamins and nutrients that are beneficial to human health, but due to its fatty acid content, has gotten a bad rap. The concept of the dairy matrix effect is revolutionizing our understanding of dairy's impact on human health. It highlights the importance of viewing foods holistically and considering their overall health associations, rather than fixating on individual nutrients. While this new perspective challenges conventional recommendations, it aligns with a growing body of research that suggests dairy, especially whole-fat dairy, can and should be part of a healthy diet. So, if you're a cheese enthusiast, you can savor your favorite dairy products, knowing that your heart (and happiness) might just thank you for it.


  1. Consumption of Dairy Foods and Cardiovascular Disease: A Systematic Review - Annalisa Giosuè, Ilaria Calabrese, Marilena Vitale, Gabriele Riccardi, Olga Vaccaro
  2. Dairy Fat and Cardiovascular Health - Esther Sendra.

  3. Diet, cardiovascular disease, and mortality in 80 countries- Andrew Mente, Mahshid Dehghan, Sumathy Rangarajan, Martin O’Donnell, Weihong Hu, Gilles Dagenais, Andreas Wielgosz, Scott A. Lear, Li Wei, Rafael Diaz, et al.

  4. Brain–immune–gut benefits with early life supplementation of milk fat globule membrane
    Hamid Jan Jan Mohamed, Eric Kim Hor Lee, Kent Chee Keen Woo, Rajini Sarvananthan, Yeong Yeh Lee, Zabidi Azhar Mohd Hussin

  5. https://www.rediscoverdairy.co.za/dairy-matrix/


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Mrs Enrike Maree (BScAgric)