Is it time to add full-fat dairy products back into your diet?
Dairy has been a source of controversy in recent years. Whether choosing fat-free and low-fat options; or foregoing milk altogether in favor of alternatives like soy, coconut or almond milk, it seems Americans have been avoiding whole-fat dairy products for decades.
But are those low-fat or fat-free options healthier? New research may suggest otherwise.
Research published in The Lancet last month showed that full-fat dairy may be healthier than previously thought. Results of the years-long study showed that participants who ate full-fat dairy products were not more likely to develop cardiovascular disease and Type 2 Diabetes compared to those who consumed low-fat dairy products.
Elizabeth Prendergast, a registered dietitian at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, Ill., says the most surprising aspect of the study was that the results showed among people who ate only full-fat dairy, those who consumed about three servings per day had lower mortality rates than those who ate less than 0.5 servings per day. The results are at odds with the current Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which includes three servings of low-fat or non-fat dairy per day.
“The fat in dairy products mainly comes from saturated fat, which has been associated with higher LDL cholesterol levels,” says Prendergast. “Elevated LDL levels can increase risks of developing blockages in arteries and throughout the body. Because of the increased risk of blockages, it is recommended to keep saturated fat intake at around 10 percent or less of the diet. As said in the study, there is clearly more to the picture that we may not know about as to why the full-fat dairy products were associated with lower mortality risks.”
The study looked at the dairy intake of over 130,000 people aged 35 – 70 from 21 countries across five continents. The researchers’ goal was to examine the link between how much and what type of dairy products people used with mortality and major cardiovascular disease including death from cardiovascular causes, non-fatal heart attacks, stroke and heart failure.
Researchers divided the dairy products like milk, yogurt and cheese that participants consumed into low-fat and whole-fat categories. Researchers collected data on participants from 2003 to 2018 and found that higher intake of total dairy – greater than two servings – was associated with a lower risk of mortality and major cardiovascular disease. While the findings are interesting, Prendergast says more research needs to be done to strengthen the study’s results.
“While it does demonstrate a positive relationship with dairy consumption and lowered mortality rates, it is always important to keep in mind that correlation is not causation. Other aspects of the participant’s diet and lifestyle, such as fruit and vegetable intake or activity level, may have also contributed to lower mortality rates,” says Prendergast.
Prendergast says individuals can find a good middle-ground between low-fat and whole-fat dairy products by choosing dairy products that contain 2 percent fat, which in addition to providing the nutritional benefits found in dairy, will help individuals feel more satisfied and prevent them for eating a second serving.
“Fat takes a longer time to digest than carbohydrates, which may allow an individual to feel more satisfied on 8 ounces of 2 percent milk compared to 8 ounces of skimmed milk,” says Prendergast.
Paying attention to the fat content of dairy products is important, but Prendergast says monitoring portion size is also necessary. Examples of standard portion sizes of dairy include 1 cup or 8 ounces of milk, one 6-ounce container of yogurt, two slices of hard cheese, which equals about 1.5 ounces or two cups of cottage cheese.
Wondering which dairy products are right for you? Consider consulting a registered dietitian to create a plan that works for your body and its needs.
About the Author
Colette A. Harris, health enews contributor, is the public affairs and marketing coordinator at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, Il. She holds a Master of Science degree in journalism from Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism and has nearly a decade of experience writing about health and wellness, which are her passions. When she’s not writing, you can find her practicing yoga, cooking, reading, or traveling.