In the world of nutrition, there are few topics as hotly debated as the consumption of high-fat dairy and red meat. For years, conventional wisdom has dictated that these foods should be limited due to their high saturated fat content and potential links to heart disease. However, a recent global study is challenging this long-standing advice, suggesting that unprocessed red meat and whole grains can be included or even left out of a healthy diet without significantly impacting health outcomes.
The Global Study
The study, conducted in 80 countries across all inhabited continents and published in the European Heart Journal, found that diets emphasizing fruit, vegetables, dairy (mainly whole-fat), nuts, legumes, and fish were linked with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) and premature death in all world regions. Interestingly, the addition of unprocessed red meat or whole grains had little impact on these outcomes.
Shifting the Focus
Dr. Andrew Mente of the Population Health Research Institute, McMaster University, Hamilton, Canada, one of the study authors, suggests that the focus should shift from reducing fat and saturated fat to increasing protective foods such as nuts, fish, and dairy. He points out that up to two servings a day of dairy, mainly whole-fat, can be included in a healthy diet. This aligns with modern nutrition science showing that dairy, particularly whole-fat, may protect against high blood pressure and metabolic syndrome.
The PURE Diet
The study introduced a healthy diet score based on six foods that have each been linked with longevity. The PURE diet included 2-3 servings of fruit per day, 2-3 servings of vegetables per day, 3-4 servings of legumes per week, 7 servings of nuts per week, 2-3 servings of fish per week, and 14 servings of dairy products (mainly whole fat but not including butter or whipped cream) per week. Participants in the top 50% of the population on each of the six food components attained the maximum diet score of six.
The study found that compared with the least healthy diet (score of 1 or less), the healthiest diet (score of 5 or more) was linked with a 30% lower risk of death, 18% lower likelihood of CVD, 14% lower risk of myocardial infarction, and 19% lower risk of stroke. These associations were confirmed in five independent studies including a total of 96,955 patients with CVD in 70 countries.
This study challenges the conventional wisdom around the consumption of high-fat dairy and red meat. It suggests that a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, dairy, nuts, legumes, and fish can contribute to a lower risk of CVD and premature death. The inclusion or exclusion of unprocessed red meat or whole grains appears to have little impact on these outcomes. As always, it’s essential to consult with a healthcare professional or a certified nutritionist before making any significant changes to your diet.