Do you enjoy the satisfying mouthfeel of a glass of whole milk or the rich flavor of a carton of full-fat yogurt? You may be doing your tastebuds and your health a favor when you choose higher fat dairy. Results from a sprawling international study show that people who eat full-fat dairy have a lower risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, and several factors related to cardiovascular disease.
The researchers also found some risk reduction for diets that contained low-fat dairy foods, but not those that included skim (no-fat) or were dairy-free.
The Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiology (PURE) study tracked the health of nearly 190,000 participants in 21 countries outside Northern America and Europe over nine years. It was published online in BMJ Open Diabetes Research & Care.
FULL-FAT OR LOW-FAT FOR REDUCING RISK OF HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE, DIABETES
The observational study found that eating at least two daily servings of dairy is linked to lower risks of hypertension, diabetes and metabolic syndrome, which is a cluster of conditions known to increase the risk for cardiovascular disease.
🥛 The link was strongest for full-fat dairy!
(Please see frozen yogurt recipe from last week’s post on ultrafiltered milk for a delicious and healthy dessert option made with full- and low-fat dairy products!)
Whether to choose full-fat, low-fat or no-fat (skim) dairy products has been a subject of controversy in recent years. Opinion is divided on whether or not the larger amounts of the saturated fats in whole-milk dairy products are harmful to heart health. The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend less than 10% of daily fat calories come from saturated sources.
This research adds to a growing body of evidence showing that saturated fat consumption does not affect cardiovascular health or total mortality. Saturated fat has even been linked to a lower risk of stroke.
The use of butter and cream were not evaluated in the PURE study because they are not a normal part of diets in the 21 countries included in the study. The countries, primarily from Asia, the Middle East and South America, were Argentina, Bangladesh, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, India, Iran, Malaysia, Palestine, Pakistan, Philippines, Polan, South Africa, Saudi Arabia, Sweden, Tanzania, Turkey, United Arab Emirates and Zimbabwe.
SHOULD YOU LIMIT SATURATED FATS FROM DAIRY?
The PURE study was published online on May 22. In February, a group of prominent nutrition scientists that are part of the Nutrition Coalition met in Washington, D.C. The group released a statement saying that current science fails to support limiting the intake of saturated fats to prevent heart disease.
The statement said, “There is no strong scientific evidence that the current population-wide upper limits on commonly consumed saturated fats in the U.S. will prevent cardiovascular disease or reduce mortality. A continued limit on these fats is therefore not justified.”
(The Nutrition Coalition is a nonprofit group dedicated to ensuring that nutrition advice from the federal government is based on the best available science. In particular, the group wants to reform the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which it states is giving advice based on “flawed or weak science.”)
DATA INCLUDES DAIRY FOODS EATEN AND DEVELOPMENT OF METABOLIC SYNDROME
The PURE study evaluated foods eaten over a year’s time via Food Frequency Questionnaires. Milk, yogurt, yogurt drinks, cheese and dishes prepared with dairy products were classified as full or low fat (1-2%). The average daily intake was about 6.3 ounces, the majority of which came from full-fat dairy.
Other participant information collected included medical history, prescription medicine use, education level and smoking status as well as weight, height, waist circumference, blood pressure and fasting blood glucose.
Information on the five factors of metabolic syndrome was available for 113,000 participants. The factors with cutoff measurements from the study are:
- blood pressure of 130/85 mg Hg
- waist measurement greater than 31 inches (80 cm)
- low HDL cholesterol, less than 18-23 mg/dL (1-1.3 mmol/L)
- triglycerides greater than 150 mg/dL (1.7 mmol/L)
- fasting blood glucose greater than 100 mg/dl (5.5mmol/L)
Participants who ate at least two servings of total dairy and full-fat dairy had a 24% lower risk for metabolic syndrome, which increased to 28% for full-fat dairy alone compared with no daily dairy intake. Eating low-fat dairy was not associated with a reduction in the development of features of metabolic syndrome.
PURE STUDY – LIMITATIONS, RECOMMENDATIONS FOR MORE DAIRY RESEARCH
Because PURE is an observational study, it does not establish a cause and effect. A weakness of the study is that participants often have trouble accurately remembering their food intake on Food Frequency Questionnaires.
The researchers suggest conducting large randomized trials to further examine the effects of full- and low-fat dairy on diabetes. They also recommend segmenting research into fermented and non-fermented dairy products.
Despite these limitations, PURE appears to be a solid contribution to the growing body of evidence supporting the health (not to mention taste) benefits of daily total and full-fat dairy intake. One caveat: Avoid added sugar when enjoying flavored dairy products!
WHO FUNDED THIS RESEARCH?
The funding source for this study was mainly the Population Health Research Institute (PHRI) with contributions from several cardiovascular research institutions and foundations. PHRI is a global health research institute based in Canada and a world leader in large clinical trials and population studies.
Other sources of funding included grants from several pharmaceutical manufacturers, Dairy Farmers of Canada, the National Dairy Council (U.S.) and national and local organizations in the participating countries.
Copyright © 2020 Jani H. Leuschel