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30 Sep 2014

A small daily serve of milk or cheese can reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke even among people who have not traditionally eaten dairy products, a long-term study has found.

In a result that undermines fears in some Asian countries that adding milk and cheese to traditional diets is contributing to a jump in heart attacks, strokes and cancer, Monash University researchers found that eating a little dairy most days actually improved health.

“In a dominantly Chinese food culture, unaccustomed to dairy foods, consuming them up to seven times a week does not increase mortality and may have favourable effects on stroke,” lead author Emeritus Professor Mark Wahlqvist said. “We observed that increased dairy consumption meant lower risks of mortality from cardiovascular disease, especially stroke, but found no significant association with the risk of cancer.”

Lactose intolerance is particularly common in Asia – in some countries it can be as high as 90 per cent – helping fuel resistance to including dairy products in the diet.

But the study, which began in 1993 and has involved tracking the eating habits and health of 4000 Taiwanese, found that consuming even small amounts of milk, cheese or yoghurt could improve health.

Professor Wahlqvist said those who ate no dairy products actually had higher blood pressure, body fat and body mass indices than those who did.

“Taiwanese who included dairy food in their diet only three to seven times a week were more likely to survive than those who ate none,” he said, adding that people only needed to eat small amounts to gain a benefit.

The key is daily consumption of dairy foods, at the rate of about five servings (the equivalent of about five cups of milk or 225 grams of cheese) spread over a week, the study found.

Such quantities rarely cause problems, even for people considered to be lactose intolerant, Professor Wahlqvist said.

The study, which also involved researchers from the National Health Research Institutes and National Defence Medical Centre in Taiwan, was published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition.

Adrian Rollins


Published: 30 Sep 2014