Good news for dairy lovers

Published online 24 September 2018

There’s new evidence against dairy skepticism, especially for low- and middle-income countries.

Letizia Diamante

Olga Kriger / Alamy Stock Photo
One of the largest multinational studies to-date, published in The Lancet, has found that consumption of milk and its derivatives is associated with a lower risk of mortality and major cardiovascular disease. 

The Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiological (PURE) study gathered dairy consumption data from more than 136,000 people aged 35 to 70 in 21 countries on five continents. Their health was assessed for nine years. 

The data showed that consuming more than two servings of dairy a day was associated with a 22 per cent lower risk of major cardiovascular disease and a 17 per cent lower risk of death compared to people who did not consume dairy. The benefits were mostly driven by milk and yogurt. People who consumed two daily servings of only whole-fat dairy had lower rates of mortality and cardiovascular diseases than those who consumed less than half a serving. 

Dairy intake in Saudi Arabia was lower than other countries in the region covered in the study, including the United Arab Emirates, Pakistan and Iran, according to cardiologist Khalid F. AlHabib, a member of the PURE team from King Saud University.  

Current dietary guidelines recommend two to four reduced-fat dairy servings per day. The guidelines were developed mainly based on studies conducted in Western countries where intake of dairy and saturated fatty acids is much higher than in low- and middle-income countries. “It is not clear whether the harms seen at such high levels apply to countries where dairy intake is much lower,” says nutrition epidemiologist Mahshid Dehghan of McMaster University in Canada. “This is the first multinational study to present data on dairy and health from low- and middle-income countries.”  

The skepticism towards dairy, especially full fat, comes from inconclusive associations between saturated fats in dairy products and a rise in low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol in the blood. However, dairy products also contain a range of potentially beneficial compounds, explains Dehghan. These include amino acids, several types of fats, vitamins, and calcium. They can also contain beneficial microorganisms. 

“The chemistry of dairy products is complex. There is a need for more specific and well-designed randomized clinical trials to evaluate individual dairy products,” says Sweden-based food scientist Gianluca Tognon, who was not involved in the study. 


Dehghan, M. et al. Association of dairy intake with cardiovascular disease and mortality in 21 countries from five continents (PURE): a prospective cohort study. The Lancet (2018).