Research Roundup: Dairy Fat, Calcium, Vitamin B12 and More

  • Article
  • 4 min read March 3, 2017

Want the latest research on all things dairy? In this edition, we cover plant-based alternatives, dairy fat and cardiovascular disease (CVD), whey protein and aging and more.

Does replacing dairy foods with plant-based alternatives improve health?

Experts from Denmark, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom reviewed scientific evidence on dairy consumption and links to risk of obesity, Type 2 diabetes, CVD, osteoporosis, cancer and all-cause mortality. The authors concluded the evidence supports eating milk and dairy foods to help meet nutrient recommendations and that they may protect against the most prevalent chronic diseases. But there is insufficient evidence that plant-based alternatives meet or exceed the health benefits of dairy foods.

Meta-analysis finds no support for assumption that dairy fat increases risk of CVD

A systematic review and meta-analysis based on 13 prospective cohort studies used biomarkers of three dairy fats to objectively evaluate their relationship to risk of CVD (heart attack, stroke, heart failure and death from CVD). The analysis concluded that higher dairy fat consumption as assessed from biomarkers “is not associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.” These findings for dairy fat may help explain previous studies showing dairy foods are not linked to increased risk for CVD, coronary heart disease and stroke, and in some cases are linked to decreased risk.

Consuming calcium within recommended upper limits is not associated with risk of CVD

This updated review and reanalysis of evidence, supported by the National Osteoporosis Foundation, found that calcium consumption up to 2,000 to 2,500 mg/day from food or supplements is not associated with CVD risk in healthy adults. The authors point out that “very high calcium intake is difficult if not impossible to achieve by food sources alone.” This is good news for dairy foods, which are good sources of calcium, critical nutrients for maintaining bone health. Of note, the recommended amount of three servings of low-fat or fat-free milk, yogurt and cheese per day provides about 1,000 mg of calcium.

Beyond building muscle, whey protein also contributes B12 and folate for healthy aging

Low appetite, diminished absorption and metabolic problems in older people may increase susceptibility to B12 deficiency, which is associated with risk of heart and neurodegenerative diseases, anemia, peripheral neuropathy, macular degeneration, cognitive decline and dementia. A randomized controlled cross-over trial among older Australian adults with low B12 status, found that consuming 25 g of whey protein isolate mixed with juice/water twice per day  compared to soy protein isolate which lacks B12 and folate, significantly increased blood levels of active B12 and folate, suggesting that consuming whey protein isolate long-term may help support healthy aging in elderly with low vitamin B12 status.  

Four-year evaluation reveals NFL Play 60 programs such as FUTP 60 improve youth fitness

A four-year longitudinal study evaluating the impact of NFL Play 60 school-based programs including Fuel Up to Play 60 (National Dairy Council and the NFL) and Play 60 Challenge (American Heart Association) on youth fitness profiles over time found that annual improvements in aerobic capacity and achievement of BMI standards were significantly greater among youth in participating vs. non-participating schools. Students at schools implementing the programs for the entire four years had better improvements in aerobic capacity than students at schools enrolled for only two or three years.

Overall diet quality may be more important for health than a single nutrient like fat

Researchers in Norway randomly assigned a group of 46 obese men to eat either a low-fat, high carbohydrate or very high-fat, low carbohydrate diet with modestly restricted calories for three months. Foods chosen for both diets were minimally processed, whole foods lower in glycemic index. Results showed eating foods primarily rich in carbohydrate or fat for three months resulted in similar improvements in abdominal fat mass and components of the metabolic syndrome. These results may not represent longer-term effects of carbohydrate and fat on cardiometabolic risk, the authors caution.

Light-blocking packaging and LED lights help maintain milk’s fresh taste

A recent study investigated the effect of different packaging materials and LED (light-emitting diode) vs. fluorescent lighting at different intensities on people’s acceptance of milk. The authors concluded using low intensity LED lighting as well as light-blocking packaging is an effective approach to protect milk’s fresh taste during storage.  

While our quarterly Research Roundup highlights findings from the latest studies, our Research Summaries will give you a comprehensive look at the totality of the evidence on a particular topic.