Which dairy products might fight heart disease?

The effect of dairy products on cardiovascular health remains contentious amongst the experts, but a recent study in Finland has shown fermentation may lead some dairy products to have a protective effect against heart disease. Such products include sour milk, kefir, kefir, yogurt, quark and cheese.

The University of Eastern Finland’s research team’s findings indicate that men who consume fermented dairy have a lower risk of incident coronary heart disease (CHD) than men who prefer non-fermented dairy products. Their research was part of the ongoing Kuopio Ischaemic Heart Disease Risk Factor (KIHD) Study. In their current project, the scientists studied associations between incident CHD and the consumption of different types of dairy product. The team looked at the data from almost 2000 men aged 42–60 years. None of the participants had CHD initially, and they all provided details on their dietary habits when they joined the project.

Amongst those who consumed fermented dairy products with less than 3.5% fat, those in the highest consumption group had a 27% lower risk of CHD compared with those in the lowest consumption category. The most widely consumed low-fat fermented dairy product was sour milk, while eating high-fat fermented dairy foods, such as cheese, did not appear to sway CHD risk one way or the other.

At the same time, the team found that people who consumed a lot of non-fermented dairy products, of which regular milk had the greatest use, had a higher risk of incident CHD, while those who had a very high intake (an average of 0.9 litres of milk per day) were the most vulnerable to heart disease.

There was no association between low consumption of non-fermented dairy products and a heightened risk of CHD.

Once again this appears to be confirming the importance of fermented foods in our diet with the friendly bacteria they provide that helps protect us and boost our health. In this case turning a product – milk – from one that seems to increase the risk of CHD into one that may reduce it. 

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