A new study published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) concluded that supplementing the Mediterranean diet with moderate amounts of dairy produce could significantly reduce the risk of heart disease and boost calcium intake.
The study which examined the health benefits of adding dairy foods in line with recommendations from the Australian Dietary Guidelines (MedDairy) was carried out by researchers from the University of South Australia and revealed there were real health benefits to supplementing a Mediterranean diet with dairy produce.
Dairy foods are important for our bone health and can also improve heart health when consumed as part of a healthy dietary pattern such as the Mediterranean diet.
“Dairy foods are vital sources of dietary calcium, amino acids, proteins, vitamins and minerals,” lead researcher Alexandra Wade told Olive Oil Times. “Dairy foods are important for our bone health and can also improve heart health when consumed as part of a healthy dietary pattern such as the Mediterranean diet. Depending on your age and gender, aim to enjoy between two and four servings of low-fat and regular-fat dairy foods each day.”
The study followed 41 volunteers between 45 and 75 years old, who were at risk of heart disease. The volunteers were randomly split into two groups. For eight weeks of the trial, one group ate a typical Mediterranean diet supplemented with dairy produce. For the same eight week period the second group ate a low-fat diet and during the final eight weeks of the study both groups resumed their normal diets.
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It was found that participants following the MedDairy diet had significantly lower morning blood pressure rates, higher good cholesterol levels, and lower overall cholesterol. Wade said that she was not surprised by the results.
“We had hoped that we would find positive health benefits associated with our trial. We know that the Mediterranean diet is linked to reduced risk of chronic disease,” she said. “Dairy foods have been associated with improved cardiometabolic health, but other findings are mixed. So for us to find improvements in cardiovascular risk factors is a great outcome for our study population.”
Based on the results of the study Wade advised following the Mediterranean diet and eating a lot of fresh, plant-based food, supplementing this with a few servings of dairy each day.
“Try to incorporate more leafy vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, nuts, seeds and fish into your diet each day,” she said. “Use extra virgin olive oil as your main culinary fat for cooking, salad dressings and spreads. Aim for three to four servings of dairy foods each day. Be mindful of what you are eating, watch your portion sizes and try to minimize energy-dense discretionary foods which are high in added sugars, salt and saturated fats.”
Whilst the Mediterranean diet enjoys a reputation for being one of the wold’s healthiest diets, dairy products fell out of favor due to their high saturated fat content. However it has recently emerged that not all saturated fats are linked with raising bad cholesterol levels, clogging arteries and leading to cardiovascular disease.
A study published earlier this year suggested that the source of saturated fats made a significant difference to their health implications. The researchers concluded that whilst saturated fats from meat increased cardiovascular risk, saturated fats from dairy products actually helped to ward off heart disease.
Haley Hughes from RDRx Nutrition is another firm advocate of the MedDairy diet and told Olive Oil Times that following a Mediterranean diet while including some low-fat dairy provides great nutritional benefits.
“Choosing to add low-fat dairy to a Mediterranean diet would increase calcium, potassium, vitamin D and protein which could lead to many health benefits,” she said. “Calcium has been linked to improving bone mass, potassium to maintaining blood pressure and Vitamin D supports multiple body functions. By choosing to add low fat dairy versus. high fat dairy you would be eliminating most saturated fat and cholesterol, known as the bad fats.”