Do you like your dairy foods but worry over scare stories about the saturated fats they contain? There’s good news. A large global study has shown that consuming dairy products is actually associated with a reduced risk of suffering life-threatening heart disease or stroke.
The findings, from total dairy consumption (whole-fat and low-fat), challenge dietary guidelines that recommend minimising the amount of whole-fat dairy products we eat. That’s because saturated fats in dairy foods have been presumed to increase blood levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol (LDL-cholesterol) which is linked to heart disease and stroke. But the authors of this article suggest that dietary advice may need to be re-evaluated in the light of these latest findings from a study spanning five continents.
PURE: a worldwide study
The authors examined data from over 136,000 people aged 35–70 years from 21 countries taking part in the PURE (Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiology) study. They looked at the effects of dairy consumption, and of specific types of dairy products (milk, yogurt and cheese), on rates of death, heart disease (heart attack or heart failure) and stroke. Up to now, most studies of dairy consumption and heart health have been carried out in North America and Europe where dairy consumption is high. PURE was conducted mainly in countries in other parts of the world where dairy consumption is lower (eg, China, India and Africa).
Participants provided details of their usual diet when they entered the study. Their health was then followed up for about 9 years.
Dairy intake and reduced risk of cardiovascular disease
People who ate three or more servings of dairy products every day had a 16% lower risk of death, heart disease or stroke during the study than people who rarely or never ate dairy foods. When the authors looked at these events individually, they found the following risk reductions:
- 17% reduced risk of death from any cause
- 14% reduced risk of death unrelated to heart disease or stroke
- 23% reduced risk of death due to heart disease or stroke
- 22% reduced risk of heart disease or stroke, including those leading to death
- 34% reduced risk of stroke
The risk of heart attack fell by 11%, although this wasn’t statistically significant, say the authors.
‘….higher dairy consumption was associated with lower risks of mortality and cardiovascular disease, particularly stroke.’ – Dehghan et al, 2018.”
How much dairy is needed for the association to be seen?
The authors found that people consuming at least two glasses of milk, two pots of yogurt, or two slices of cheese per day had lower rates of death, heart disease or stroke than people who rarely or never included these foods in their diet. Whereas the findings for milk and yogurt were statistically significant, those for cheese were not, say the authors.
In this study, the authors couldn’t assess differences in the effects of low-fat versus whole-fat dairy products. That’s because low-fat dairy foods aren’t widely available in many countries outside Europe and North America, so there were few people in the study who ate only low-fat products.
Health impact may depend on the whole food, not just fat content
In recommending that we choose fat-free or low-fat dairy foods, dietary guidelines may be placing too much emphasis on the effects of a single dairy nutrient – saturated fat. The authors point out that dairy products are a diverse group with many different nutrients and including fermented and cultured products. These characteristics may have an impact on the health effects of dairy products.
‘Our findings support that consumption of dairy products might be beneficial for mortality and cardiovascular disease [heart disease and stroke], especially in low-income and middle-income countries where dairy consumption is much lower than North America and Europe.’ – Dehghan et al, 2018
Find out more: read the original article.