Dairy products and heart health

A global study has found that dairy consumption is linked to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease.

Just when you get used to eating only low-fat or fat-free cheese, milk, and yogurt, another study says, “Hey, dairy isn’t so bad for your heart after all.”

In fact, new research suggests that in moderation dairy may actually lower your risk of heart disease and stroke.

But before you stock up on gallons of creamy whole milk and giant wheels of cheddar, some experts warn that even with this new study, dairy research remains as mixed as a high-fat milkshake.

The Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiology (PURE) study, published on September 11 in The Lancet, covered 21 countries and involved more than 135,000 people. The researchers followed the people for about nine years.

They found that people who consumed more than two servings a day of milk, cheese or yogurt had lower rates of cardiovascular disease and death than those who ate less.

This was true even for people who only ate whole dairy products.

The researchers write that dairy consumption “should not be discouraged and perhaps even encouraged in low- and middle-income countries where dairy consumption is low.”

People in these countries eat less dairy than in North America and Europe, they write.

Study author Mahshid Dehghan, PhD, researcher at Population Health Research Institute in Canada, says The Guardian that people living in wealthier countries who don’t eat a lot of dairy products might also benefit from adding more milk, cheese or yogurt to their diet.

Whole dairy products have gotten their bad rap because they contain high amounts of saturated fat, which raises LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels, a risk factor for heart disease.

The extra fat also adds calories to your diet, which can lead to weight gain.

The researchers point out, however, that dairy products contain many nutrients which do us good, in particular:

  • amino acids
  • unsaturated fats
  • vitamins K-1 and K-2
  • calcium
  • probiotics

So focusing only on saturated fat misses out on these benefits.

However, Dehghan said moderation is key – so people who already eat six to seven servings of dairy a day shouldn’t eat more.

United States Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020 recommends that adults consume two to three cup equivalents per day of fat-free or low-fat dairy products.

Six ounces of fat-free yogurt equals 3/4 cup of dairy. One and a half ounces of cheddar equals 1 cup of dairy.

The guidelines also include fortified soy beverages in this category.

Dr. Andrew Freeman, cardiologist at National Jewish Health in Denver, Colorado, said the results of this study have been somewhat exaggerated by the media.

“This study is interesting and intriguing, but I don’t think it’s going to change the way I – or other people who know nutrition – practice,” he said.

In an article published earlier this year in The American Journal of Medicinehe and his colleagues describe some of the limitations of the PURE study.

One is the use of food frequency questionnaires, which require people to remember how often and how much dairy they ate.

Critics say these are not an accurate representation of what people eat. The authors of the new study, however, write that they are “rather useful” when comparing groups of people, such as high, medium and low consumption of dairy products.

Some health experts are happy to see once-demonized fats re-entering the nutritional fold.

“Research is backtracking showing that having fat in the diet makes people feel a bit more full – we’re less likely to overeat,” said Angel Planells, MS, RDN, registered dietitian nutritionist. and spokesperson for Seattle. the Nutrition and Dietetics Academy.

Freeman, however, cautions that you need to look at the whole research, not just one study.

“This study suggests dairy may be beneficial, but there are quite a few other studies in recent years that have been very well done that suggest dairy may be harmful,” Freeman said.

One of them is a 2014 study from Sweden which found that women who drank three or more glasses of milk a day were 93% more likely to die than those who drank less than one glass a day. This included higher rates of death from cardiovascular disease.

Other studies found links between eating more dairy products and an increased risk of bone fractures, breast cancer, ovarian cancer and prostate cancer.

“When you look at other research alongside this study, what can you conclude?” Freeman said. “The answer is: I don’t think we can draw a firm conclusion.”

So when you walk into the supermarket aisle, should you kiss or skip the dairy section?

“Many concerns have been raised over the years about dairy products,” Freeman said. “I would say it should probably still be limited. And if eaten, it should be eaten in small amounts and ideally lower in fat.

Planells agrees that moderation is key, but he’s still a fan.

“The great thing about consuming milk or yogurt is that you get a whole bunch of nutrients in every serving.”

What about the fat content? Planells recommends low-fat milk, but higher-fat Greek yogurt, which helps you feel fuller and gives you an extra boost of protein.

He also acknowledges that dairy products are not for everyone.

“Some people love dairy, some people despise dairy,” Planells said. “For some, not eating dairy is an ethical decision – if you’re vegan – or maybe you have an allergy.”

For these people, there are other ways to get the nutrition in milk, as long as they are concerned about getting all the essential nutrients.

Freeman, however, does not consider dairy products essential.

“We are the only species on the planet that actively seeks out and drinks another animal’s breast milk,” he said.

He also points to research done by Dr. Dean Ornish on the benefits of whole, low-fat, plant-based foods in reversing heart disease: “It still rings true to this day and it’s very powerful data.”

But even this nutritional research has its reviews.

There are, of course, other ways to find out if your diet is right for you.

Regular check-ups with your doctor to measure things like cholesterol and lipid levels and body mass index can detect health issues early.

And a big one – how do you feel throughout your day?

About Thomas B. Countryman

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