Dick Groves
Editor, Cheese Reporter

 

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Dairy Products Getting A Nice Boost From Nutrition Research

Let’s face it, the field of nutrition research hasn’t always been kind to dairy products.

Oh, sure, there was a period when dairy products were highly regarded as nutritional powerhouses, but in recent years, or recent decades to be more exact, dairy products seem to have come under more criticism for the nutritional “evils” they contain, including (depending on the product) saturated fat, dietary cholesterol, sodium and added sugar, than praise for the nutritional “positives” they contain, including calcium, protein, phosphorus, potassium, riboflavin, vitamin B-12, zinc, and magnesium, among others.

So it was with a considerable amount of pleasure that we have been reading, and writing, about some of the latest nutrition research findings that have found (or confirmed) some very interesting nutritional benefits provided by dairy products in general and full-fat dairy products in particular. Several of these were reported on in last week’s paper.

For starters, a lengthy story appearing on page 3 of last week’s issue looked at the so-called “French paradox.” Basically, researchers noted that the French rank second globally in per capita cheese consumption (an astonishing 57 pounds per person in 2013, or more than one pound per week, according to the International Dairy Federation), but France has a relatively low rate of cardiovascular disease.

And the researchers demonstrated that cheese consumption is associated with a different metabolic response compared with milk consumption. Specifically, a stimulation of gut bacteria activity after eating cheese is different from the stimulation achieved with milk intake, possibly leading to the beneficial effects of cheese intake on the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Also, as detailed in a story on page 47 of last week’s issue, research from Sweden’s Lund University has found that consumption of high-fat cheese and yogurt is linked to a reduction in the risk of type 2 diabetes.

The main finding of that study was that, in contrast to lowfat dairy products, high intake of high-fat dairy products, such as cheese and yogurt, was associated with decreased incidence of type 2 diabetes.

And third, as reported in a story that appeared on page 51 of last week’s edition, a study led by researchers at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University found that increasing intakes of yogurt, among other foods, was strongly associated with weight loss; and increasing intake of other dairy products is not significantly related to either weight gain or weight loss.

As if all of those studies aren’t enough, as we reported back in our March 27th issue (please see page 7), research conducted at the University of Kansas Medical Center has found a correlation between dairy product consumption and the levels of a naturally occurring antioxidant called glutathione in the brain of older, healthy adults.

The finding that higher dairy intake is linked to higher levels of glutathione in the brain is important, researchers said, because glutathione could help stave off oxidative stress and the resulting damage caused by reactive chemical compounds produced during the normal metabolic process in the brain.
Oxidative stress is known to be associated with a number of diseases and conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.

Taking all this research together, several points should be kept in mind. First, all of this research builds on findings of previous research, so the pro-dairy evidence is really starting to build.

Evidence of this point can be found by checking the references for a couple of the studies. Just the introduction to the French paradox study included a total of 18 different references, including studies with such titles as “Could cheese be the missing piece in the French paradox puzzle?”, “A changing view on saturated fatty acids and dairy: from enemy to friend”; and “Cheese intake in large amounts lowers LDL-cholesterol concentrations compared with butter intake of equal fat content.”

Then there’s the diabetes study, which appeared in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. That study listed a total of 66 references, an indication of how much research is currently being conducted on diet and type 2 diabetes.

More diabetes-related research in the future is guaranteed; according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 29.1 million Americans have diabetes, and another 86 million Americans are prediabetic.

Related to all the research that’s been conducted to date is that pretty much every study emphasizes that more research needs to be conducted to find definitive answers (if such answers exist).

For example, here’s the last sentence of the “French paradox” study, which was published in the American Chemical Society’s Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry: “However, further studies are needed to explore the exact metabolic mechanisms linking cheese consumption, stimulation of the gut microflora, and cholesterol metabolism.”

Finally, it’s worth noting that at least some of the recent pro-dairy research favors full-fat dairy products but not necessarily lowfat or fat-free products. Does this mean processors should stop producing those products and switch to full-fat varieties only?

Hardly. No matter what some recent studies have found, the federal government will, almost undoubtedly, continue to recommend lowfat and fat-free dairy products for the foreseeable future. Maybe in a decade or two the government will change its view, but it’s going to take a lot more research for that to happen. DG


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