One of the commonest diet fads these days is choosing low fat dairy over whole fat milk and milk products. A new large study however, has now shown that full-fat dairy and dairy products may be more beneficial for the heart. The results of the study appeared in the latest issue of the journal The Lancet.
A team of researchers from the McMaster University in Canada looked at 136,384 people from 21 different countries between ages of 35 and 70 years. These participants were followed up for a period of 9 years. Their daily intake of milk and dairy products was recorded during this time. Overall health of these individuals was recorded for each of these individuals. The data was collected by the Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiological (PURE) study.
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The type of milk and dairy products consumed by the participants was assessed. The participants were classified into four categories;
- Those who ate no dairy at all
- Those who had less than one serving per day
- Those who had one to two servings per day
- Those who consumed more than two servings per day
One serving is equal to 244g glass of milk or yoghurt or a teaspoon of butter (5g) or a 15g slice of cheese.
Results revealed that persons who had around three portions of dairy daily had a lower risk of death and reduced risk of getting cardiovascular disease and stroke compared to the group that did not consume dairy products at all. Furthermore, people who took three servings of whole fat dairy were at a reduced risk of heart disease compared to those who took half a serving of whole-fat dairy daily. The researchers also looked at the differences in health benefits provided by milk and yoghurt compared to butter and cheese. They noted that milk and yoghurt are healthier choices.
According to lead author Dr Mahshid Dehghan, a senior research associate in the Department of Medicine at McMaster University, this study refutes advice that states low-fat dairy is good for the heart. She said that people have been focussing on low-fat dairy “predominantly based on the assumption that saturated fat increases LDL cholesterol.” She went on to explain that milk and dairy contain other healthy components also. This includes vitamin K1, K2, calcium, magnesium, potassium, unsaturated fats and amino acids. These can also improve heart health. She said milk and dairy can be fermented to have probiotics which are healthy as well. She added that it is wrong to focus only on a single nutrient – namely fat.
In a statement Dr Dehghan said, “Our findings support that consumption of dairy products might be beneficial for mortality and cardiovascular disease, especially in low-income and middle-income countries where dairy consumption is much lower than in North America or Europe.”
Other experts have warned against taking these results literally and consuming too much of saturated fats. They have said that “moderate amount” or three servings have been emphasized upon in the study. Dehghan said in a statement, “We do not encourage people who have six to seven servings a day to increase their consumption. The message of the study is moderation.”
Public Health England in a statement has said in response to this study that its recommendations regarding dairy consumption remains unaltered. “This study suggests dairy consumption may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease in low and middle income countries, but this was not the case for those with higher incomes comparable to the UK,” said the chief nutritionist at PHE, Dr Alison Tedstone. “Dairy plays a role in a healthy balanced diet, but too much can lead to high levels of saturated fat and salt – the UK’s Eatwell Guide recommends choosing lower fat options to help prevent heart disease,” she said.