Milk consumption not linked to cardiometabolic diseases, concludes large-scale meta study
31 May 2021 --- Lowering milk intake may not help prevent cardiovascular diseases or Type 2 diabetes, according to a new study in the International Journal of Obesity.
The research team from the UK, Australia and New Zealand found that people who regularly drank high amounts of milk had lower levels of both good and bad cholesterol, although their body mass index (BMI) levels were higher than non-milk drinkers. Their further analysis of other large studies also suggests that those who regularly consumed milk had a 14 percent lower risk of coronary heart disease.
“The study certainly shows that milk consumption is not a significant issue for cardiovascular disease risk, even though there was a small rise in BMI and body fat among milk drinkers,” says Vimal Karani, professor of nutrigenetics and nutrigenomics at the University of Reading, UK.
“It remains unclear whether the fat content in dairy products or an unknown ‘milk factor’ that contributes to lower cholesterol levels.”
The new research was conducted following several contradictory studies that had previously investigated the causal link between higher dairy intake and cardiometabolic diseases, such as obesity and diabetes.
Genetics seem to play a role
To account for inconsistencies in sampling size, ethnicity and other factors, the team conducted a meta-analysis of data in up to 1.9 million people and used the genetic approach to avoid confounding.
Researchers examined a variation in the lactase gene associated with the digestion of lactose milk sugars.
The study also identified that having the genetic variation where people can digest lactose was a good way for identifying people who consumed higher levels of milk.
Even though the UK biobank data showed that those with the lactase genetic variation had 11 percent lower risk of Type 2 diabetes, the study did not suggest that there is any strong evidence for a link between higher milk intake and increased likelihood of diabetes or its related traits such as glucose and inflammatory biomarkers.
Karani also reports that those with a genetic variation in the lactase gene had a significantly lower risk of coronary heart disease.
Health on the horizon
As consumers increasingly look for foods that can contribute to better health, both dairy and dairy alternatives have benefited from health-oriented positionings.
Last October Arla launched its first organic ingredient responding to the influx in organic demand with its organic micellar casein isolate. In a similar vein, Lactalis recently unveiled its organic whole milk powder, tapping into the market for better-for-you, health-oriented foods.
At the same time, plant-based milk alternatives have seen growing interest from consumers who are looking to improve their health, as well as that of the planet. Demand for milk alternatives, such as oat milk, is on the rise. Oats have been touted for naturally occurring beta-glucan ingredient, which has been found to have cholesterol-reducing benefits.
Moreover, Cecilia McAleavey, director of public affairs and sustainable eating at Oatly, recently highlighted that science shows the shift to plant-based diets is important to tackle public health challenges.
By Missy Green
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