Dairy Foods Can Fit Into the Mediterranean Diet

There should be no doubt that dairy foods can be part of healthy eating patterns.

A new study published in American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that incorporating three to four servings of dairy foods in the Mediterranean Diet (MedDiet)—which typically only includes one to two servings—lowered blood pressure and plasma triglycerides as well as improved the good HDL-cholesterol and total cholesterol/HDL-C ratio in subjects at risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD).

Forty-one Australian participants aged 45 and older who were at risk of CVD participated in a randomized controlled, crossover study where they followed a low-fat control diet or a MedDiet supplemented with three to four servings of dairy per day (MedDairy) for eight weeks with an eight-week wash-out period between the two test diets. In order to meet the calcium requirements for Australians, the MedDairy diet group was advised to eat one serving daily of low-fat milk; 40-120 grams hard or semisoft cheese; 200 grams low-fat Greek yogurt or 200 grams tzatziki dip. The low-fat diet, on the other hand, advised participants to follow their habitual diet while reducing their total fat intake by choosing low-fat foods and using low-fat cooking methods.

Now, you might wonder why this is relevant? Well, the MedDiet is one of the healthy eating patterns recommended by the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) for its benefits associated with cardiovascular health. The benefits associated with the MedDiet include reduced inflammation and other atherosclerosis risk factors. However, this dietary pattern is low in calcium as it recommends two servings a day of dairy foods and therefore it does not meet the calcium requirements in the U.S. as well as in other Western countries such as Australia. As such, following this dietary pattern in countries with higher calcium recommendations might have unintended health consequences in the long-term.

Additionally, dairy foods not only contain calcium, but also many other essential nutrients. Dairy foods are the No. 1 source in the U.S. diet (based on what people actually consume as reported in NHANES data) of calcium, vitamin D and potassium, which the 2015 DGA identified as nutrients under-consumed in the US population.

This study demonstrates that incorporating three to four servings of dairy foods into the MedDiet has positive benefits on CVD risk factors when compared with a low-fat diet. The MedDiet with additional dairy foods may not only improve markers associated with reduced CVD risk but may also help to support bone health and other nutrient needs.