A new study shows that overweight adults may be able to lower their risk of developing a range of symptoms that often precede heart disease and type 2 diabetes by consuming a dairy-rich diet.

According to the report, overweight adults who consumed the most servings of milk, butter, yogurt and cheese were the least likely to be diagnosed with high cholesterol, elevated blood pressure and high blood pressure, regardless of whether these foods were low in fat. Collectively, these medical conditions are known as insulin resistance syndrome (IRS) and are major risk factors for diabetes and heart disease, researchers explain in the latest issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association.

Researchers followed 3,000 black and white people aged 18 to 30 for 10 years. Those who consumed the most dairy products had a 72 percent lower incidence of insulin resistance syndrome than those with the lowest intake. However, the results only held true for overweight young adults. In this study, people were defined as being overweight if they had a body mass index (BMI) of 25 or over. (Your BMI is about 25 if you're 5 feet, 9 inches tall and you weigh 170 pounds.) No such advantage was found in leaner people.

In addition, each average daily serving of dairy consumed was associated with a 21% lower risk of developing IRS over the study period regardless of other dietary or lifestyle factors such as smoking, alcohol intake and exercise. Other research findings include:

  • There was no association between high dairy consumption and the risk of IRS among individuals who were normal weight.
  • While white adults tended to consume more dairy foods than blacks, there were no racial differences when it came to the relationship of dairy foods to IRS.
  • Both men and women seemed to benefit equally from a dairy-rich diet.
  • Dairy consumption rose in tandem with intakes of whole grain, fruits and vegetables.
  • Those who consumed the most dairy also drank less sugar-sweetened soft drinks.

“Our findings suggest that dairy consumption may be part of a dietary pattern that reduces the risk of obesity and IRS,” said Mark Pereira, the study's lead author. “I'm aware of published papers from the U. S. Department of Agriculture showing that milk intake over the past three decades has decreased and soda intake has increased.” And during that same time, the incidence rates of obesity and type 2 diabetes have increased.

“It is possible that there is an important connection between dairy intake and the epidemics of obesity and type 2 diabetes but this issue needs further study,” said Pereira, an epidemiologist at Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School.

With some exceptions — fat in whole milk and lactose intolerance , milk has good things in it, said Pereira. The sugars it contains are complex, “very different from the sugars in candy. They are converted to blood sugar at a lower rate,” he says. And milk contains a lot of useful protein, he adds, which means that “it is more filling than soda. People who drink milk are less likely to eat too much because it is more filling.”

But you can avoid the negatives in milk by observing the American Heart Association’s dietary rules which call for “a couple of servings a day of reduced-fat dairy products,” he says. And those who are lactose intolerant can still gain the health benefits from lactose-free milk and other dairy products.

The study was funded through a grant from the Charles H. Hood Foundation, an independent organization focused on children's health.

Reuters, Health Scout News