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New research has found that eating dairy foods appears to be linked to a lower risk of diabetes and high blood pressure. An international team of researchers studied 147,812 participants aged between 35 and 70 from 21 countries: Argentina, Bangladesh, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, India, Iran, Malaysia, Palestine, Pakistan; Philippines, Poland, South Africa, Saudi Arabia, Sweden, Tanzania, Turkey, United Arab Emirates and Zimbabwe.

The participants completed Food Frequency Questionnaires which assessed how they ate over the last 12 months. Dairy products included milk, yogurt, yogurt drinks, cheese and dishes prepared with dairy foods, which were classified as full or low fat (1 to 2%). Butter and cream were analyzed separately because they are not commonly eaten in some of the countries in the study.

Other factors such as the participants’ medical history, use of prescription medicines, smoking status, measurements of weight, height, waist circumference, blood pressure and fasting blood glucose were also recorded. Participants were followed for an average of nine years.

The results showed that eating at least two servings of dairy each day is linked to an 11 to 12% lower risk of diabetes and high blood pressure, while three servings of total dairy each day are linked to a 13 to 14% lower risk. The associations were stronger for full-fat dairy than they were for low-fat dairy.

Two daily servings of total dairy were also linked to a 24% lower risk of metabolic syndrome, which is a collection of conditions that includes a higher waist circumference, high triglyceride levels, low levels of “good” cholesterol, hypertension (high blood pressure) and high fasting blood sugar, which together can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. The relationship also was stronger for full-fat dairy; two servings of full fat were linked with a 28% lower risk of metabolic syndrome, compared with those who ate no dairy foods, and eating low-fat dairy was not associated with a lower prevalence of most of the conditions that make up metabolic syndrome.

The study is observational, so it does not prove a cause and effect relationship. However, if the findings are confirmed in sufficiently large and long-term trials, then eating more dairy foods may be an easy and inexpensive way to reduce metabolic syndrome, hypertension, diabetes and ultimately cardiovascular disease.

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