Seismic consumer changes afoot as dairy gets a welcome boost

As dairy consumption during lockdown rises, new research suggests eating full-fat dairy twice a day may lower the risk of metabolic syndrome.

While the enforced country-wide lockdowns of the past few months have dominated headlines and disrupted global supply chains, they have also forced many businesses and consumers to reflect on the way they operate and carefully consider how they might live their lives in the future.

In the US, a OnePoll survey reports that issues surrounding the current coronavirus pandemic have inspired 64 percent of Americans to rethink their habits and try to live more sustainably. At the same time confinement has reignited our love affair with old family values and traditional home comforts.

That has led to seismic changes in what we consume and the way we’re consuming it. As we recently noted, Kantar Worldpanel estimated this would see people eating 503m more in-home meals per week during the lockdown period. That has been good news for dairy, with an increase of 190m more potential meal occasions per week as we all consume more teas, coffees and cereal whilst in lockdown.

A rekindled love for meat and dairy?

Now, the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) in the UK has provided further evidence of this and our rekindled love of meat and dairy during lockdown. 

According to new figures published, the number of people eating more meat has doubled from 7% to 14% since February with dairy consumption having jumped by 7% to 12% during the same period. This also coincides with a renewed trust in farmers and the belief that they have been doing a good job during the pandemic. 

Whereas last year, environmental concerns were a ‘key focus’ and plant-based was the buzzword, these are now taking a ‘back seat to price and availability, according to the AHDB. 

Are whole fat and fermented dairy the answer?

In a further boost to the sector, a new study published in British Medical Journals: Open Diabetes Research & Care suggests that eating dairy twice a day could help to lower the chances of diabetes and high blood pressure. 

While we already know that several short-term trials have revealed dairy intake was found to have lowered blood pressure, less is known of the influence upon blood glucose. However, emerging evidence suggests whole fat and fermented dairy may ‘influence diverse pathways’ and have favorable effects in lowering rates of metabolic syndrome (MetS). 

Furthermore, although previous studies on the health effects surrounding dairy have shown that higher intake is associated with lower risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease, these were generally focused on North American and European participants. 

Worldwide research spanning regions and cultures

Interestingly, the new research expands upon this by including data from 664 communities across 21 countries on five continents to present a more balanced and comprehensive view of regions and cultures where diets are ‘substantially’ different to other parts of the world. Participants were followed for nine-year period, with surveys looking at their diets over a period of 12 months. 

For the purposes of the study dairy was defined as milk, yogurt, yogurt drinks, cheese, and mixed dishes prepared with dairy products, and it was noted whether these were full or low-fat products. With butter and cream not being common ingredients in some countries, these were tracked separately. 

The research found that people in Europe, North America, the Middle East, and South America consumed the most dairy on average, with people in South Asia, China, Africa and Southeast Asia consuming the least. North Americans and Europeans were more likely to consumer low fat products, whilst BMI was found to be the highest in the Middle East and South America.

Full-fat dairy lowers risk of MetS

Here’s the interesting bit though. Researchers found that those who consumed two daily servings of any dairy product were 24% less likely to be at risk of MetS, while those enjoying two servings of full-fat dairy in particular showed a 28% lower risk of developing the condition. 

"Increasing dairy consumption may represent a feasible and low cost approach to reducing MetS, hypertension, diabetes, and ultimately cardiovascular disease events worldwide," said the researchers in the journal.

Speaking to Newsweek, Victoria Taylor, senior dietician at the U.K.-based charity the British Heart Foundation, said that the effect of milk and dairy products on heart and circulatory diseases provided an interesting, and growing, area of study. 

However, she believes more research is needed to provide a clearer picture of whether it is the dairy itself that is behind the effects seen, or other factors among the people studied. 

“We also need more information about the effects of different types of dairy products and what it is about them that is potentially beneficial,” she added.