Volume 78, Number 6 November/December 2007
Numerous studies published within the past year or so add to the accumulating body of evidence suggesting that dairy products may help reduce the risk of osteoporosis and hypertension, achieve and maintain a healthy body weight, and have a beneficial role in cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and the metabolic syndrome (also called insulin resistance syndrome).
The bone health advantage of food sources of calcium (primarily dairy products) compared to calcium supplements was recently demonstrated in a cross-sectional study of healthy postmenopausal women. Other recent studies support a favorable effect of dairy products on bone health. Researchers attribute this beneficial effect to many nutrients in milk (e.g., calcium, vitamin D, protein, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, zinc, vitamins A, C, and K) that support bone health. A number of government and health professional organizations encourage three daily servings of dairy products for bone health.
New observational studies demonstrate the blood pressure-lowering effect of dairy products and support findings from the previous landmark DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) trial. The American Heart Association, in its recent guidelines to prevent and treat hypertension, supports the DASH dietary pattern which includes three servings of low-fat dairy foods.
Some new epidemiological studies add to the emerging scientific evidence indicating that calcium intake, and particularly consumption of dairy products, may result in small beneficial shifts in body weight and body fatness, which in turn may help achieve and maintain a healthy body weight. For example, a study demonstrated that young, normal weight women who consumed at least three servings of dairy foods a day gained less body fat over 18 months than those who ate fewer than three servings a day.
Recent investigations suggest that consuming dairy foods or dairy food nutrients such as calcium and vitamin D may protect against cardiovascular disease, particularly by their effect on risk factors (e.g., hypertension, obesity, high blood cholesterol levels). The American Heart Association, in its recent healthy lifestyle recommendations for the general population and in its guidelines for cardiovascular disease prevention in women, encourages consumption of low-fat and fat-free dairy products as part of a heart-healthy diet.
According to a recent review and meta-analysis of observational and clinical trials, consuming adequate amounts of calcium, vitamin D, and dairy products may help prevent type 2 diabetes. Emerging epidemiological findings also link higher intake of dairy products with reduced risk of the metabolic syndrome, a risk factor for cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.
Low-fat and fat-free milk and milk products are one of the 2005 Dietary Guidelines’ “Food Groups to Encourage.” This is not surprising given the high nutrient density of dairy products, their emerging beneficial role in health promotion and disease prevention, and many Americans’ low dairy food intake.
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