Milk seems like a simple food. But, it actually has 18 out of 20 essential proteins and amino acids. It also contains saturated fat that’s why nutritionists have studied it so much, trying to figure out how it impacts health.
Based on a meta-analysis of three large studies, new research found that people who drink milk have lower LDL and HDL cholesterol levels and a lower risk for coronary heart disease. The data the research looked at came from more than 1.9 million people. The study also found that the milk-drinkers had more body fat and higher BMI. Having a high BMI or more fat is usually a risk factor for heart problems. But people who drink milk regularly have a 14 percent lower risk of coronary heart disease.
The researchers explained that the reason milk has been vilified in the past is because of “confounding factors.” That means that there were extra variables that the older studies weren’t considering. For instance, if people in a study drink milk and smoke, the milk may be blamed for a heart problem caused by smoking.
“The study certainly shows that milk consumption is not a significant issue for cardiovascular disease risk even though there was a small rise in BMI and body fat among milk drinkers,” said Prof. Vimal Karani of the Univ. of Reading. “What we do note in the study is that it remains unclear whether it is the fat content in dairy products that is contributing to the lower cholesterol levels or it is due to an unknown ‘milk factor.’”
Milk is such a complicated food that it’s hard to tell why it’s impacting people this way, just that it is. So many foods are good for us one moment and bad the next. When it’s something as complex as dairy, it’s hard to pinpoint its exact benefits and drawbacks. This study proves that we don’t know everything about it.
Researchers thought there might be four possible reasons that milk was affecting people the way it was. The calcium and lactose in milk might increase calcium absorption and lower cholesterol levels. The calcium might increase bile acids and therefore reduce cholesterol concentrations. Milk-drinkers may consume lower amounts of fats like butter. Or, their microbiome might be altered by milk and lower the amount of cholesterol their bodies make.
While some people cannot drink dairy for other reasons, if you like milk, this research shows that you shouldn’t be afraid to enjoy milk in moderation!