The Full Fat Dairy Paradox

Mariana | May 6, 2016

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Hooray for coffee with whole milk and homemade pizza with full-fat mozzarella cheese! So long  skim milk (aka water with milk extract) and reduced-fat cheese/yogurt! Yes, I was one of those, I fell prey to the low-fat diet.

The low-fat diet craze in America ignited back on the late 70’s. Back then, dietary fat was considered deadly. In 1977, the government started telling all Americans to eat less fat.  In the mid-’80s, low-fat food production started and by the late 90’s our grocery stores, pantries and fridges were filled with low-fat products that in effect replaced the fat with carbohydrates and sugar.  If it wasn’t fat, it wouldn’t make you fat. Low-fat foods prevented cardiovascular disease and made you skinny. Or so they thought. Instead, Americans weighed more and heart disease and diabetes skyrocketed during these times.

The tides are changing now. We are learning that not all fats are created equal and that saturated fat and cholesterol are not the demons they once thought they were. Recent data reveals that the link between dietary fat (except trans fats) and heart disease is weak. Saturated fat and cholesterol intake isn’t synonymous with heart disease. Don’t believe me? The prevailing belief was that butter (aka saturated fat) was bad for you, so they invented margarine (aka trans fat).  Now butter is making a come back because trans fats were a big mistakes (aka double trouble for your heart). Similarly, egg yolks are not the villans we once thought they were.  No need to “enjoy” egg white omelets. Research has shown that moderate egg consumption can be part of a healthy diet. Egg yolks do not increase heart disease risk in healthy individuals.

Now science is clearing the air around full-fat dairy and the research has recently revealed that skim milk, reduced-fat cheese and low-fat yogurt is one of the diet trends you may want to skip. There is growing evidence that shows that people who consume whole-fat dairy weigh less and are less likely to develop diabetes. A recent study published in the American Journal of Nutrition showed that those who drank whole milk reduced their risk of obesity by 8% and that low-fat milk was not associated with weight loss. Another recent study in the journal Circulation  revealed that whole milk drinkers had, on average,  46% lower risk of getting diabetes. The result of these studies seem backwards since full-fat dairy has more calories, but past research has found that when people cut back fat they eat more carbs and sugar, both of which have worse results on insulin and diabetes risk. Another phenomenon that may explain these findings is that higher fat foods makes us feel full faster and this in turn could help decrease calorie intake.

Nutrition is an evolving science; these results are too recent to change dietary recommendations and only recommend full fat dairy but also strong enough to allow full-fat dairy into our diets. As always with nutrition it is important to keep moderation in mind when interpreting these studies. Nutritional recommendations should be about foods as a whole and not about single nutrients. Also important, when eating for health and longevity we must “recognizing the complex influences of different foods on long-term weight regulation, rather than simply counting calories.”  Whole foods like whole milk can be included as part of a healthy diet.  Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m have to go to Whole Foods to get whole wheat pitas, full-fat mozzarella cheese and lots of fun/healthy toppings for our pizza friday and Netflix binge night!


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