Are you a skim milk diehard? You may want to read this.
If it’s not the consistency or taste of low-fat milk, chances are you’re choosing it over the full-dairy alternatives thanks to the ‘health’ benefits. Dietary guidelines even push skim while denouncing whole milk; schools follow these guidelines, offering skim milk but zero whole milk options. Even chocolate skim milk has a place in schools with its added sugars, while whole milk gets the shaft.
Now, large population studies that look at possible links between full-fat dairy consumption, weight and disease risk are starting to call out this accepted advice. For example, some research suggests whole milk drinkers are slimmer in weight, and have a reduced chance of diabetes.
In a new study published in the journal Circulation, Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian and his team studied blood from over 3,000 adults enrolled in the Nurses’ Health Study of Health Professionals Follow-up Study. They found people who consumed full-fat dairy had, on average, a 46% lower risk of getting diabetes during the study period (15 years).
“I think these findings together with those from other studies do call for a change in the policy of recommending only low-fat dairy products,” says Mozaffarian. “There is no prospective human evidence that people who eat low-fat dairy do better than people who eat whole-fat dairy.”
Experts must’ve assumed that cutting full-dairy products, which are high in calories, would naturally reduce diabetes risks. But in other studies, they found that people reducing fat from their diet sought sugar or carbohydrates as a substitute, both of which can have worse effects on insulin and diabetes risk. In Mozaffarian’s current study, he took weight factors in consideration, and still found the connection between full-fat dairy and lower diabetes risk strong.
In fact, a separate study from the American Journal of Nutrition found that among 18,438 women in the Women’s Health Study, comparing the effects of full fat and low fat dairy on obesity, that the full fat diet lowered the risk of obesity by 8%.
What’s clear when both studies’ data comes together is that dietary guidelines narrow-mindedly focused on cutting fat from diets. By focusing on one aspect of the diet however, they failed to recognize people would compensate for the missing fat and start loading up on carbohydrates, which the body converts into sugar—and then body fat.
“This is just one more piece of evidence showing that we really need to stop making recommendations about food based on theories about one nutrient in food,” says Mozaffarian. “It’s crucial at this time to understand that it’s about food as a whole, and not about single nutrients.”
Researchers like Mozaffarian are still unsure exactly how full dairy products lower the risk of diabetes. The simplest and most obvious answer is the full fat dairy products provide the body with ample calories, so you’re not seeking the carbs and sugars alternatives. Another theory is fats in dairy may be acting directly on cells, working on the liver and muscle to improve their ability to break down sugar from food.
Now that doesn’t mean you should start fiending full fat dairy products immediately. More research needs to be done on what an appropriate amount to consume really is.
But the evidence for backing away from recommending just low fat options is strong.
“In the absence of any evidence for the superior effects of low fat dairy, and some evidence that there may be better benefits of whole fat dairy products for diabetes, why are we recommending only low fat diary? We should be telling people to eat a variety of dairy and remove the recommendation about fat content.”