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Oct 03, 2018

Two Daily Servings of Dairy Helps Reduce Risk for Heart Disease

Global study finds that consumption of milk, cheese and yogurt helps reduce cardiovascular risk, regardless of fat content.

Consuming at least two servings of dairy products a day is associated with lower risk for heart disease, stroke and death, based on results of a global study of more than 136,000 adults from 21 countries.

Published in the European Heart Journal, this study looked at the impact of dairy consumption on heart health. It included 136,384 adults, all of who completed food questionnaires and were followed for an average of nine years.

The goal was to see how consumption of dairy products, including milk, cheese and yogurt, impacted health and survival.

Overall, there were a total of 6,796 deaths and 5,855 heart events over the study period. Analysis showed that adults consuming two or more servings of dairy each day had 22% lower risk for heart disease, 34% lower risk for stroke and 23% lower risk for heart-related death than adults with no dairy consumption. Two daily servings of dairy was also associated with lower risk for heart attack, although findings were not considered statistically significant.

When researchers looked at specific types of dairy products, they found that one serving of milk a day was associated with 10% lower risk of heart events and heart-related death compared to individuals with no milk intake. Similarly, one daily serving of yogurt a day was associated with 14% lower risk of heart events and heart-related death compared to individuals who never consumed yogurt.

One daily serving of cheese was associated with lower heart risk, while daily consumption of butter was associated with slightly increased risk. However, neither of these associations was considered statistically significant.

What findings show, according to authors, is that consumption of dairy products should be encouraged, regardless of their fat content. Current guidelines recommend at least three servings of dairy a day, as dairy contains vital nutrients like calcium and vitamin D. However, guidelines also discourage consumption of whole-fat dairy products, which contain saturated fats that can raise bad cholesterol.

The problem, according to experts, is that discouraging certain types of dairy may lead to lower overall dairy intake. It’s estimated that 80% of Americans don’t get enough dairy in their diets as it is, with rates even lower in low and middle-income countries.

For this reason, authors highlight the need to increase consumption of dairy products like milk, yogurt and cheese, regardless of their fat content. After all, even whole-fat dairy products will contain far more nutrients than processed or sugar-rich foods. 

However, it’s important to note that findings were from an observational study, which is not designed to prove cause and effect. Dietary surveys were also self-reported, which is not always accurate and changes over time. So while findings support the health benefits of all types of dairy, current guidelines still recommend choosing non- or low-fat dairy when possible as part of a heart-healthy diet.

Questions for You to Consider

  • What is a heart-healthy diet?

  • A heart-healthy diet is full of fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains and includes low-fat dairy, fish and nuts as part of a balanced diet. It’s important to limit intake of added sugars, salt (sodium) and bad fats (saturated and trans fats).

  • What is the difference between saturated and unsaturated fats?
  • Eating saturated fats raises the level of cholesterol in the blood, which increases risk of heart disease and stroke. Unsaturated fats, however, help lower cholesterol levels and, in moderation, can lower risk of heart disease. Most saturated fats come from meat and dairy products, as well as baked and fried foods. Unsaturated fats can be found in fish, nuts, seeds and certain oils. Replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats is recommended to reduce risk for heart disease.

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