health benefits of dairy

A Canadian study published in The Lancet examined the association between dairy products and cardiovascular disease and mortality and found that we may be underestimating the health benefits of dairy.

How often did you hear the friendly advice to lose the butter from your lobster-dipping sauce? Or to switch to skim milk in your coffee? You may have heard these and other tips from your nutritionist or from your circle of friends and family. They do have your best interest at heart as many dietary recommendations tell you to eat low-fat dairy products instead of regular whole-fat milk, yogurt, butter, and cheese.

The reason for this advice is that dairy products are a major source of saturated fats and the high lipid and cholesterol levels in these products could be linked to an increase in cardiovascular disease and mortality. However, a new study from McMaster University in Canada and published in The Lancet begs to differ after they examined the health benefits of dairy.

The researchers examined the associations between dairy products such as yogurt, cheese, and milk and cardiovascular disease and mortality. They obtained data from a total of 130,000 people aged 35-70 years from 21 countries in five continents, who reported their whole-fat and low-fat dairy consumption through questionnaires. The data came from The Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiology (PURE) study in which researchers followed-up with the participants for up to nine years or until either natural or heart-disease-related death occurred.

They found that eating three servings of whole-fat milk or yogurt a day has cardiovascular health benefits and lower risks of stroke and mortality. They also did not find an association between higher dairy intakes and heart attacks. The authors note that their “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 [low].”

They also point out that current guidelines recommend fat-free or low-fat dairy due to the supposed harms of saturated fatty acids on LDL cholesterol. However, they note that since dairy products are diverse, we cannot fully characterize their impacts on health on one factor such as saturated fats.

The main limitation of the study was that the lack of supervision of the participants’ reported dairy intake. Nevertheless, the study suggested that the health benefits of dairy may actually include a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and mortality. While these findings need to be confirmed with more studies, you may feel less guilty the next time you buy your favorite whole-fat yogurt.

Written by Marina Chemerovski-Glikman, PhD

Reference: Dehghan M, Mente A, Rangarajan S, Sheridan P, Mohan V, Iqbal R et al. Association of dairy intake with cardiovascular disease and mortality in 21 countries from five continents (PURE): a prospective cohort study. The Lancet. 2018.

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