Supplementing the MedDiet With Some Dairy Can Be Heart Healthy

A new study discovered it is not necessary to avoid cheese and yogurt to reduce the risk of heart disease.

Jan. 7, 2019
By Mary West

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The Mediterranean diet (MedDiet) is not asso­ci­ated with a high con­sump­tion of dairy foods. However, Australian researchers recently found that adding cheese and yogurt to this eat­ing plan pro­vided car­dio­vas­cu­lar ben­e­fits supe­rior to those pro­duced by a low-fat diet.

This study shows that the new MedDairy works bet­ter than a generic low-fat diet, ensur­ing bet­ter health out­comes for peo­ple at risk of car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­ease.- Alexandra Wade, co-author of the study

According to the American Heart Association, car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­ease is respon­si­ble for one out of every three deaths in the United States. Approximately 2,300 peo­ple in the U.S. die from this ill­ness every day, which is, on aver­age, one death every 38 sec­onds.

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Low-fat diets are often advised for peo­ple who want to reduce their risk of heart dis­ease. Similarly, the MedDiet has shown value in pre­vent­ing the mal­ady.

Researchers in the new study from the University of South Australia com­pared a low-fat diet to a MedDiet that was sup­ple­mented with three to four serv­ings of dairy foods each day. The find­ings revealed that the dairy-aug­mented MedDiet, called a MedDairy diet, led to sig­nif­i­cantly health­ier heart rates, blood pres­sure, cho­les­terol lev­els, cog­ni­tive func­tion and mood. Co-author Alexandra Wade con­cluded that the results chal­lenge the pop­u­lar rec­om­men­da­tion of the low-fat diet for car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­ease pre­ven­tion.

The MedDiet is fast earn­ing a rep­u­ta­tion as the world’s health­i­est diet and is renowned for deliv­er­ing improved car­dio­vas­cu­lar and cog­ni­tive health,” she said in a press release. But it’s also higher in fat, which can be a deter­rent for peo­ple seek­ing to adopt a health­ier eat­ing plan, espe­cially if they don’t real­ize the dif­fer­ence between healthy and unhealthy fats.”


In Australia, low-fat diets are often rec­om­mended for improv­ing heart health and they are still per­ceived as being healthy,” Wade added. This study shows that the new MedDairy works bet­ter than a generic low-fat diet, ensur­ing bet­ter health out­comes for peo­ple at risk of car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­ease.”

While the study com­pared the low-fat diet to the MedDairy diet, it did not com­pare the MedDiet to the MedDairy diet. Might the addi­tion of dairy foods to the MedDiet enhance its car­dio­vas­cu­lar ben­e­fits? Olive Oil Times put the ques­tion to co-author Karen Murphy.

I do think that the inclu­sion of dairy foods in the MedDiet may have pro­vided extra car­dio­vas­cu­lar advan­tages,” she said. Nonetheless, it’s dif­fi­cult to tease out the effect of indi­vid­ual foods and nutri­ents when you are study­ing dietary pat­terns. We con­sume foods together rather than in iso­la­tion, and it may be the syn­er­gis­tic effect of the foods that led to the ben­e­fits observed in the study.”

Dairy foods have been reported to have their own pos­i­tive effects on car­dio­vas­cu­lar health such as reduc­ing blood pres­sure,” she added. We think it may be due to the inhi­bi­tion of a cer­tain enzyme con­ver­sion, which reduces hor­mones that are respon­si­ble for vas­cu­lar con­stric­tion. The advan­tage could also stem from the poten­tial abil­ity of dairy foods to reg­u­late vas­cu­lar resis­tance and boost vasodi­la­tion, which allows blood ves­sels to relax due to increased nitric oxide syn­the­sis. There are other poten­tial mech­a­nisms which are still being explored.”

What aspects of the MedDiet are respon­si­ble for pro­duc­ing more car­dio­vas­cu­lar pro­tec­tion than the oft-rec­om­mended low-fat diet? Murphy explained that mul­ti­ple fac­tors under­lie its supe­ri­or­ity for the heart.

The MedDiet can be eas­ily adhered to because it’s less restric­tive than a low-fat diet,” she said. It’s also palat­able and cheaper than a stan­dard Western diet and is easy to pre­pare.”

Moreover, the MedDiet con­tains a range of foods and nutri­ents, which inde­pen­dently have been reported to have their own heart health ben­e­fits,” Murphy added. These include monoun­sat­u­rated fatty acids from nuts and extra vir­gin olive oil; omega‑3 fats from oily fish and wal­nuts; fiber; polyphe­nols; whole grains; and legumes. The eat­ing plan involves rel­a­tively low con­sump­tion of red and processed meats, as well as dis­cre­tionary foods, which tend to be high in added sug­ars, salts and unhealthy fats. These points com­bined are likely to account for why a MedDiet is more heart-friendly than a low-fat diet.”

The study was pub­lished in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

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