In a new study, researchers found that eating at least two daily servings of dairy is linked to lower risks of diabetes and high blood pressure, as well as metabolic syndrome that heightens heart disease risk.
The observed associations were strongest for full-fat dairy products.
The research was conducted by a team at McMaster University and elsewhere.
Previous research has found that higher dairy intake is associated with a lower risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, and metabolic syndrome.
But these studies have tended to focus on North America and Europe to the exclusion of other regions of the world.
In the study, the researchers drew on people taking part in the Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiology (PURE) study.
Participants were all aged between 35 and 70 and came from 21 countries: Argentina; Bangladesh; Brazil; Canada; Chile; China; Colombia; India; Iran; Malaysia; Palestine; Pakistan; Philippines, Poland; South Africa; Saudi Arabia; Sweden; Tanzania; Turkey; United Arab Emirates; and Zimbabwe.
Usual dietary intake over the previous 12 months was assessed by means of Food Frequency Questionnaires.
Dairy products included milk, yogurt, yogurt drinks, cheese, and dishes prepared with dairy products, and were classified as full or low fat (1-2%).
Butter and cream were assessed separately as these are not commonly eaten in some of the countries studied.
Data on all five components of the metabolic syndrome were available for nearly 113,000 people. The average daily total dairy consumption was 179 g, with full-fat accounting for around double the amount of low fat: 124.5+ vs 65 g.
Some 46, 667 people had metabolic syndrome—defined as having at least 3 of the 5 foods.
The team found total dairy and full-fat dairy, but not low-fat dairy was linked to a lower prevalence of metabolic syndrome.
At least 2 servings a day of total dairy were linked to a 24% lower risk of metabolic syndrome, rising to 28% for full-fat dairy alone, compared with no daily dairy intake.
The health of nearly 190,000 participants was tracked for an average of nine years, during which time 13,640 people developed high blood pressure and 5351 developed diabetes.
At least 2 servings a day of total dairy was linked to an 11-12% lower risk of both conditions, rising to a 13-14% lower risk for 3 daily servings. The associations were stronger for full fat than they were for low-fat dairy.
The team says increasing dairy consumption may be a feasible and low-cost approach to reducing [metabolic syndrome], hypertension, diabetes, and ultimately cardiovascular disease events worldwide.
The study is published in BMJ Open Diabetes Research & Care.
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