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Low-Fat Milk: It Does a Blood Pressure Good

By Janis Jibrin, M.S., R.D.

Switching from whole or two-percent milk to skim or one-percent will save you as many as 70 calories. And calorie cutting isn’t the only benefit you may get from choosing the slimmer sip: A recent study suggests that it may also have a major impact on your blood pressure.

The Harvard study, which tracked nearly 29,000 women ages 45 and older for 10 years, found that women who drank two or more daily servings of low-fat dairy reduced their risk for developing high blood pressure by 10 percent compared to those who drank less.1 Those who downed high-fat dairy saw no blood pressure benefits.

What’s the connection between low-fat milk and blood pressure? The study authors offer a range of possible explanations. First, low-fat milk is high in calcium, which plays a major role in blood pressure regulation. Second, calcium may help you lose weight, and weight loss may help to reduce blood pressure. Finally, low-fat milk is fortified with vitamin D, which helps regulate blood pressure directly and may also help you absorb more calcium. Whole milk has all the same nutrients as skim and one-percent milk, so why didn’t it have any effect on blood pressure? Researchers speculate that the saturated fat in whole milk may contribute to clogged arteries and obesity—two factors that can increase blood pressure.

Now, let’s look at the stats: A third of Americans have high blood pressure, or hypertension. (Check out the Blood Pressure Categories chart from the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute.) If you’re overweight, your risk for hypertension increases. This condition may set you up for heart disease, stroke, kidney disease and complications during pregnancy. So, if something as simple as switching to skim or one-percent milk helps, it’s well worth it. If you’re worried about the taste, don’t be; after a few weeks, your taste buds will adjust. If you’ve been drinking whole or two-percent, first switch to one percent; then see if you can switch to skim after a few weeks. Check out the Smart Balance 14-day meal plan for ideas on how to incorporate more skim and one-percent milk into your diet.

You may also lower your blood pressure by losing weight, getting at least 30 minutes of physical activity daily, reducing your sodium intake, and eating a diet rich in fruits and veggies. If it’s still high, you may want to ask your doctor about medications that can lower blood pressure.

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1 Wang, L. et al. Dietary Intake of Dairy Products, Calcium, and Vitamin D and the Risk of Hypertension in Middle-Aged and Older Women. Hypertension. 2008;51:1073-1079

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