A new research challenges the widely held belief that those who consume less full fat are at higher risk of heart disease.
A multinational Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiological (PURE) study found that those who consume less than 0.5g of full-fat dairy per day are at higher risk of heart illness compared to those who eat three servings per day. Dairy consumption is lowest in southeast Asia, the study adds, at just 37g per day on average.
The study of more than 130,000 people in 21 countries is the first of its kind, according to lead author Dr Mashid Dehghan. Speaking to Health Issues India, she said “our study suggests that consumption of dairy products should not be discouraged and perhaps even be encouraged in low and middle-income countries where dairy consumption is low.”
Health benefits of eating dairy do not just extend to lower rates of heart disease. The risk of death due to non-cardiovascular disease is also lower for those who eat full-fat dairy. The total mortality risk stands at 5.4 percent for those with a low intake of dairy, compared to 3.4 percent for those with a high intake.
“Consumption of dairy products, should not be discouraged and perhaps even be encouraged in low and middle-income countries where dairy consumption is low.”
The research notes that consuming full-fat diary may have health benefits obscured by the perceived impact of saturated fats on cholesterol. Excess intake of saturated fats is linked to high cholesterol, which is a risk factor for a number of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) including heart disease. However, the study notes that “dairy products and dairy fat also contain potentially beneficial compounds” which could actually be good for heart health.
The dairy industry in India is appraised at 83 billion USD and the country’s consumption of milk is the highest in the world. Yet dairy consumption is not evenly distributed across India, with those living in urban areas tending to consume more milk and other dairy products compared to their rural-dwelling counterparts.
“”Dairy products and dairy fat…contain potentially beneficial compounds” which could actually be good for heart health”
The majority of Indians, meanwhile, are lactose intolerant. Lactose intolerance is when someone has difficulty digesting lactose, a sugar which is primarily found in dairy products. Some research suggests that a mere eighteen percent of Indians are able to consume milk with health complaints. Lactose intolerance is especially concentrated in the northeast of India.
With heart disease looming as the leading cause of death in India, reports of the potential benefits of dairy for cardiovascular health may come as good news for India’s dairy eaters. Yet researchers do not think we should be so hasty.
“The association between dairy consumption and cardiovascular disease is still inconclusive,” Dr Jimmy Chun Yu Louie and Dr Anna M Rangan add in a linked comment to the article, noting that there is “no need to change dairy food dietary guidelines yet.”
They continue, “the results from the PURE study seem to suggest that dairy intake, especially whole-fat dairy, might be beneficial for preventing deaths and major cardiovascular disease.” Yet, they note “it is not the ultimate seal of approval for recommending whole-fat dairy over its low-fat or skimmed counterparts.”
The study can be accessed here.