Having three dairy servings lowers risk of heart disease, helps people live longer

Having three servings of dairy a day could help lower your risk of heart disease, a new study claims.

The last few years have seen the rise of the anti-dairy health fad, with advocates saying whole milk and other dairy products - high in saturated fat - raise LDL cholesterol, which increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, according to Daily Mail.

But researchers said they found those who consumed three servings of milk, cheese, butter or cream per day were almost two times less likely to suffer from heart disease and strokes, compared to having fewer servings.

The team, led by McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, says its findings show that consuming dairy shouldn't be discouraged - and in fact should be encouraged in low-income and middle-income countries where dairy intake is low.

Currently, Dietary Guidelines 2015-2020 recommends no more than three servings of dairy a day and advises to choose fat-free and low-fat options. 

This is based on research that has shown saturated fats found in whole-fat products raises your LDL cholesterol, a marker of heart disease.

However, past evidence has suggested there are a number of nutrients found in dairy products including calcium, potassium, magnesium, vitamins K1 and K2  and probiotics (in yogurt) that could contribute to a healthy diet.

'Diet is one of the most important modifiable risk factors of chronic disease,' lead author Dr Mahshid Dehghan, a senior research associate at McMaster University, said.

'And because dairy has magnesium, potassium, all these vitamins, we wanted to see if there was a link between consumption and chronic disease.' 

For the study, the team looked at more than 136,000 people from 21 countries who had participated in the Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiological (PURE) study.

The PURE study looks at environmental, societal and biological effects on obesity and chronic health issues including heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

The participants, who were between ages 35 and 70, were divided into four categories: no dairy, less than one serving per day, one to two servings per day, and more than two servings per day.

A serving was determined as being equivalent to a glass of milk, a cup of yogurt, one 15 gram slice of cheese, or a teaspoon of butter. 

Researchers noted the dietary intakes of the participants at the study's start in 2003 and followed them for about nine years. 

The high intake group, which had an average of three servings per day, was found to have lower rates of death due to cardiovascular and non-cardiovascular causes, heart disease and stroke compared to the no intake group.

Additionally, those who only consumed whole-fat at a higher intake - around three servings per day - had lower rates of death and heart disease that those who less than 0.5 servings of whole-fat dairy per day.

'There are many factors that affect the pattern of consumption, because the food culture in various countries is different,' Dr Dehghan said.

'But we see the same trends. No matter, which country we looked, the trends were the same.' 

She says more research is needed as to why dairy is linked to low levels of heart disease as well as looking into overall diet quality in different countries. 

'What I really want to emphasize is that consumption shouldn't be discouraged but encouraged,' Dr Meghan said.

'We are not saying people eating seven servings of dairy a day should increase their intake, but that three servings - moderation - is good for you.'