Article

Can dairy foods support metabolic health?

June 19, 2018

Did you know following a healthy eating pattern that includes low-fat and fat-free dairy foods has been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease and Type 2 diabetes? 

As of 2012, more than a third of American adults had been diagnosed with metabolic syndrome, a cluster of risk factors associated with the development of cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes and other chronic diseases.

To be diagnosed with metabolic syndrome, a person must have at least three of these risk factors: elevated waist circumference, elevated triglycerides, reduced HDL-cholesterol, high blood pressure and elevated fasting blood glucose. The first line of treatment for metabolic syndrome is making heart-healthy lifestyle changesincluding heart-healthy eating, aiming for a healthy weight, managing stress, engaging in physical activity and quitting smoking.

In a recent randomized, crossover clinical trial, adults with Type 2 diabetes followed a calorie-restricted diet, conducted in two 12-week phases. All participants had been diagnosed with metabolic syndrome and had a low habitual calcium intake (less than 600 milligrams per day) and light-to-moderate physical activity level. Results found that consuming approximately 1,200 milligrams of calcium per day (700 milligrams supplied from fat-free milk in a breakfast shake) led to a greater reduction in some components of metabolic syndrome and measures of cardiometabolic health when compared to a diet including a lower-calcium breakfast shake (6 milligrams per serving) and a total of 525 milligrams of calcium per day. The researchers attributed these beneficial effects to the calcium, protein and minerals in milk paired with an energy-restricted diet.

According to a 2011 literature review, emerging evidence indicates that consuming dairy foods may be linked with a reduced risk of metabolic syndrome risk factors. While more research is needed, the authors of this review suggest that components of dairy foods, such as milkfat, vitamin D, calcium, magnesium, potassium and whey protein, may contribute to this link.

Results from one study indicate that vitamin K2 could be added to the list. A 10-year follow-up study of men and women ages 49-70 found that the adults with the highest consumption of vitamin K2 had a lower incidence of metabolic syndrome. Higher consumption of vitamin K2, found in animal-source foods, was primarily associated with lower triglycerides. Higher vitamin K status was also associated with lower waist circumference in women. The plant-based form of vitamin K (phylloquinone or K1), on the other hand, was not associated with prevalence of metabolic syndrome.

A recent study found that dairy foods like soft cheese, blue cheese, semi-soft cheese and hard cheese can contribute a significant amount of vitamin K2 to the diet. Fuller-fat varieties of milk, cheese and yogurt have more vitamin K2 than low-fat or fat-free dairy foods. In the future, more research will help us better understand how the vitamin K2 content of dairy foods may support health.

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is a lifelong commitment. Health and wellness professionals can help people over the long term make diet and other lifestyle changes needed to improve risk factors of metabolic syndrome.