A glass of whole fat milk three times per day is good for the heart and may help extend life, according to conclusions of a new study.
The Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiological (PURE) study, recently published in The Lancet, followed 136,384 participants from 21 countries aged 35 to 70 years old for an average of 9.1 years.
It found that people who consumed three servings of whole fat dairy products per day had lower death rates and cardiovascular disease compared to those who consumed less than 0.5 servings of whole fat dairy per day.
Current recommendations suggest people should consume two to four servings of fat-free or low-fat dairy products per day, and reduce whole-fat dairy products to help prevent cardiovascular disease.
However, the findings of this new study contradict that and suggest that people in low-income and middle-income countries increase their dairy consumption.
The study’s lead author Dr. Mahshid Dehghan from McMaster University in Toronto said: “Our 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 much lower than in North America or Europe.”
For the purposes of the study, a standard serving of dairy means one glass of milk at 244 grams, a cup of yogurt at 244 grams, one slice of cheese at 15 grams, or a teaspoon of butter at five grams.
The study showed that dairy consumption was highest in North America and Europe averaging 368 grams per day or above four servings of total dairy per day.
It was lowest in south Asia, China, Africa and southeast Asia with average consumptions of 147 grams, 102 grams, 91 grams and 37 grams per day respectively.
Study participants were grouped into four categories: no dairy (28,674 people), less than one serving per day (55,651), on to two servings per day (24,423), and over two servings per day (27,636).
Compared to the no-intake group, the high-intake group (mean intake of 3.2 servings per day) had lower rates of total mortality (3.4 percent versus 5.6 percent), non-cardiovascular mortality (2.5 percent versus four percent), cardiovascular mortality (0.9 percent versus 1.6 percent), major cardiovascular disease (3.5 percent versus 4.9 percent), and stroke (1.2 percent versus 2.9 percent).
Among those who consumed only whole-fat dairy, higher intakes with an average intake of 2.9 servings of whole fat dairy per day, it was associated with lower rates of total mortality (3.3 percent versus 4.4 percent) and major cardiovascular disease (3.7 percent versus five percent), compared to those who consumed less than 0.5 servings whole-fat dairy per day.
Higher intake of milk and yogurt (above one serving per day) was associated with lower rates of the composite outcome, which combines total mortality and cardiovascular disease (milk: 6.2 percent versus 8.7 percent; yogurt: 6.5 percent versus 8.4 percent), compared to no consumption.
The reasons why dairy might be associated with lower levels of cardiovascular diseases need to be researched more say the study authors. The recommendation to consume low-fat dairy is based on the presumed harms of saturated fats on a single cardiovascular risk marker.
However, evidence suggests that some saturated fats may be beneficial to cardiovascular health, and dairy products may also contain other potentially beneficial compounds, including specific amino acids, unsaturated fats, vitamin K1 and K2, calcium, magnesium, potassium, and potentially probiotics.
The effect of dairy on cardiovascular health should therefore consider the net effect on health outcomes of all these elements, the study said.