Eggs, coffee, chocolate, red wine – these are just a few of the foods that once were demonized by nearly all of the nutrition experts that have since been vindicated by a plethora of studies, common sense and the test of time.
Dairy products which naturally contain saturated fat – whole milk, butter and cheese, in particular – appear to finally be getting their day in the sunlight of nutritionally approved foods. But I suspect (and hope) it won’t end here. I think it’s high time all natural saturated fats be taken off of the nutrition police’s top most wanted list. But, before I get ahead of myself, here’s the skinny on dairy.
Recent Studies Vindicating Dairy
Since 2009, there have been several studies that have linked full fat dairy to lower rates of obesity, lower risk for cardiovascular disease and the prevention of fat accumulation in the liver. But, 2016 has ushered in a trifecta of published, peer reviewed studies that seem to indicate that full fat dairy may actually be better for our health than low or no fat dairy. Two of these studies are clinical studies, the gold-standard in scientific studies and far more conclusive than the more common epidemiological studies. By the way, most of the nutrition community’s shunning of saturated fats, including dairy fat, over the last 50+ years is based on old epidemiological studies. Many of which were later discovered to have major flaws.
In January, the Children’s Hospital and Research Center Oakland published the results of a controlled, clinical study to determine if a higher fat DASH diet made a difference in health markers compared to the original DASH diet. The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet has long been known to reduce blood pressure and other risk factors for cardiovascular disease. The diet promotes high volumes of fruit and vegetables, small amounts of lean proteins and moderate amounts of low and no-fat dairy.
This study compared the health markers of three groups of people following three different diets: the traditional DASH diet allowing only low and no fat dairy, the high fat DASH diet allowing for full fat dairy and a control group who followed none of the parameters of a DASH diet. The study revealed that blood pressure was reduced the same amount in both the regular DASH and high fat DASH diets compared to the control group. But the high fat DASH participants showed a greater decrease in triglycerides and LDL (bad) cholesterol compared to the regular DASH diet. Strike one for low and no fat dairy.
In April, a Harvard and Tufts epidemiological study, based on a follow up of the Nurse’s Health Study which followed 3,333 people for fifteen years, found that those participants with the highest amounts of dairy fat in their blood were nearly 50% less likely to develop diabetes. Strike two for low and no fat dairy.
Last month, a controlled, clinical study conducted by the University of Copenhagen was published by The American Society for Nutrition. This study, which ran for twelve weeks, had 164 participants split into three groups. One group consumed 80g of full-fat cheese daily, the second group consumed 80g of reduced fat cheese daily and the third group (the control) consumed 80g of bread and jam (a carbohydrate alternative to cheese). At the conclusion of the study, LDL (bad) cholesterol levels for participants of all three diet groups were statistically the same compared to the start of the study. However, only one group saw statistically significant increases in HDL (good) cholesterol by the end of the study – the full fat cheese group. Strike three for low and no fat dairy.
The Take Away
More and more experts in the field of nutrition are beginning to be swayed by the ever increasing, quality studies that seem to suggest that not only is full fat dairy not bad for you, but it may actually be better for you than dairy that has fat removed. Unfortunately, the latest U.S. government guidelines still recommend that all dairy be consumed in low or no fat form. And they allow for only a tiny intake of total saturated fat – less than 10% of daily calories. It’ll be another five years before new recommendations will be published. Will they finally catch up?
On a similar note, dairy fat has been marginalized because it’s saturated fat. Saturated fat as a whole has been demonized by the same, flawed epidemiological studies I referenced before. The nutrition community has come around on saturated fats from plant sources, such as coconut and avocado oils, and from fish that contain omega 3 fatty acids. And they seem to be coming around on dairy fat, but what about saturated fats from other animal sources? Are they really as bad as we once thought? And, if not, can’t we allow for more saturated fat than is currently recommended?
Hopefully we’ll find out the answers to those questions soon enough. In the meantime, this dairy-loving girl is thrilled to get the green light on cheese. Bring on the brie!