PURE study puts full-fat dairy back on the health food ‘nice’ list

woman pouring glass of milk

Is there a pure and simple way to a healthy heart? Perhaps not. But there may be a PURE and simple way, that is, if we’re referring to the Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiology (PURE) study.

The PURE study analysed diet, cardiovascular disease, and mortality of more than 135,000 people aged 35–70 years from 21 countries. In one part of the study, participants’ diets were recorded using validated food frequency questionnaires.

Using PURE study data, researchers from the Population Health Research Institute in Canada aimed to create a healthy diet score. The results were published this month and presented a mostly unsurprising conclusion.

“A diet comprised of higher amounts of fruit, vegetables, nuts, legumes, fish, and whole-fat dairy is associated with lower CVD (cardiovascular disease) and mortality in all world regions.”

This is especially true in countries with lower income where consumption of these foods is low, the study says.

The PURE surprise

Most of this won’t surprise anyone with a basic knowledge of the foods generally associated with good health. But the last-named food group may raise some eyebrows: whole-fat dairy.

Most over-50s in living in 1970s Australia will remember the halcyon days of dairy. The more milk and cheese you consumed, the healthier you would be. This was emphasised by daily deliveries of small bottles of milk to primary schools. Crates and crates of milk – a bottle for every child – delivered to every school, every day.

As we rolled into the ’80s, doubts about dairy became increasingly common.

Allergies were identified. The amount of fat in Australian diets became a concern and were often attributed to dairy consumption. Low-fat milk skyrocketed in popularity. Dairy went from hero to … well, not quite villain, but certainly something we should consume at relatively low levels.

But the data from the PURE study suggests maybe we’ve swung the pendulum too far the other way.

The heart of the matter

A return to the good/bad old days of school milk deliveries is highly unlikely. Allergies and intolerances to dairy products are real for some. But these results suggest we probably don’t need to feel guilty if we don’t order a skinny latte.

It’s not the first study to re-herald the health benefits of dairy. In 2019, the Heart Foundation updated its guidelines regarding foods that increased the risk of stroke or heart attack. Cheese, full-fat milk and yoghurt were removed from the list.

The PURE study points to dairy food being not unhealthy, but recommended for health.

The key is moderation. But if you’ve been avoiding dairy for fear it’s doing harm, you may be able to return to it relatively guilt free.

Have you cut back on your dairy intake over the past decade or so? Did you do so because of perceived health risks?

Also read: Heart valve disease on the rise in Australia, cardiologists warn

Health disclaimer: This article contains general information about health issues and is not advice. For health advice, consult your medical practitioner.

Written by Andrew Gigacz

Andrew has developed knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income and government entitlements, as well as issues affecting older Australians moving into or living in retirement. He's an accomplished writer with a passion for health and human stories.

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