Drink skim milk to skirt stroke risk

By Shayna Brouker • Published: July 25th, 2012
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Good news for skim milk drinkers, lean cheese nibblers and low-fat yogurt eaters: Compared with those who go full-fat, you enjoy not only delicious dairy but also a lower risk of getting a stroke. A study from Sweden, where dairy is a staple of the Nordic diet, found that of more than 74,000 Swedes, those who ate an average of four servings of low-fat dairy products a day had a 12 percent lower risk of stroke. They also had a 13 percent lower risk of ischemic (iss-kee-mick) stroke compared with people who did not include low-fat dairy food in their diets — even after taking into account risk factors like high blood pressure. Nine out of ten strokes are ischemic, meaning a blood clot blocks a vessel in the brain.

The study, published in the journal Stroke, found that while feasting on full-fat dairy products like whole milk was not associated with risk of stroke, it can increase L-D-L, or bad cholesterol, and counter the benefits of eating low-fat dairy foods. Fat from any food contributes to atherosclerosis (ath-uh-roh-skluh-roh-sis), or hardening of the arteries, and therefore, increases your risk of stroke.

So it makes sense that choosing frozen yogurt over full-fat ice cream benefits your blood pressure. But scientists think the calcium, magnesium, potassium and vitamin D in low-fat dairy foods also lend a healthy hand to the heart. Researchers say low-fat, vitamin D-fortified dairy foods have been associated with lower blood pressure, which is the single most controllable risk factor for stroke. About one-third of all adult Americans have high blood pressure … and only half of them have it under control.

Besides dining on low-fat dairy foods, treats like dark chocolate and berries can help relax blood vessels. An occasional glass of red wine, which contains antioxidants like resveratrol (rez-VAIR-uh-trol) and catechins (CAT-i-kins) can help protect artery walls.

Cheers to your heart.