Is the Tipping Point for Dairy Foods of All Fat Levels and Heart Benefits Here?

  • Article
  • September 18, 2018

A recent study published in The Lancet of adults from 21 countries found eating dairy foods is linked to reduced risk of major cardiovascular disease events and mortality.

The results of this large prospective cohort study add to the existing body of research that dates back nearly 25 years, where several studies show dairy foods are associated with a neutral or reduced risk of heart disease. Additionally, the consistency, magnitude and diversity of studies from across the globe raises the question: Have we finally hit the tipping point for recognizing dairy foods’ link to heart benefits?

The Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiology (PURE) study involved more than 136,000 adults ages 35 to 70 years old across five continents who completed food frequency questionnaires to record dairy consumption of milk, cheese and yogurt and other dairy-based foods. This was further categorized into low-fat and whole-fat dairy. Why the distinction? The researchers noted they wanted to examine if dietary guidance to choose only low-fat over whole-fat dairy, due to its saturated fat content and potential adverse effects on heart health, would hold up if tested among diverse populations from low- and middle-income countries.

The main findings include:

  • Higher consumption of total dairy (more than two servings per day compared to 0.5 servings) was associated with reduced risk of total mortality, non-cardiovascular mortality, cardiovascular disease mortality, major cardiovascular disease and stroke;
  • Higher milk and yogurt consumption (more than one serving per day compared to none) was associated with reduced risk of total mortality;
  • Cheese and butter (butter intake was low) consumption was not associated with risk of total mortality.

The results from this large multinational prospective study are consistent with the growing body of scientific evidence that has shown eating dairy foods from a variety of fat levels are associated with neutral or reduced risk of cardiovascular disease outcomes and mortality. Additionally, this new evidence indicates that dietary recommendations to include dairy foods — within caloric and physical activity recommendations and regardless of fat level — as part of healthy eating patterns could be made globally.

The research paper sums it up by stating: “In the context of all other related studies, findings from the Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiology (PURE) study indicate that consumption of dairy products should not be discouraged and perhaps even be encouraged in low-income and middle-income countries where dairy consumption is low.” And study co-author Mahshid Dehghan was quoted in Time stating that "about three servings of dairy a day is associated with a lower risk of mortality and cardiovascular disease.“