People are tired of hearing what is good and what is bad for their health. One day you hear that egg yolk is very bad with high cholesterol levels, and then you get bombarded with posts on social media that we should eat at least two eggs a week otherwise we will develop high levels of bad cholesterol.
There is much confusion. While some people may simply choose to forget all they hear and just do what they want, others become stressed, doubting whether what they eat is right or wrong. The reality is although we should take what we hear with a pinch of salt we should accept that information coming from expert sources is usually based on long-term studies and cannot just be dismissed.
One of the best examples is the debate around intake of fatty food. For years people were encouraged to avoid saturated animal fat and instead to use carbohydrates, but recent findings reveal that cutting fat from the diet can increase the body’s craving for sugary carbohydrates which is far more dangerous in building up bad cholesterols.
The other interesting finding is related to the use of skimmed dairy products for children and adults. For years, on the basis of studies that found children who consumed low-fat milk as part of a reduced-saturated-fat diet had lower concentrations of LDL cholesterol, the American Academy of Paediatrics believed that when the fat is taken out of milk, calories will be also reduced, therefore helping protect kids against becoming overweight.
However a study of preschool-aged children published in early 2013 in the Archives of Disease in Childhood, a sister publication of the British Medical Journal, found that low-fat milk was associated with higher weight. In fact kids drinking low-fat milk tended to be heavier. The study included about 10,700 children in the United States, chosen across all racial/ethnic and socioeconomic groups. Parents were interviewed about their child’s milk consumption at two years old and again at age four.
These findings were confirmed by two separate studies published by Swedish researchers in the European Journal of Nutrition in Feb 2013 and the Scandinavian Journal of Primary Health Care in June 2013. Both studies found that high-fat dairy was associated with a lower risk of obesity.
In her article “Full Fat Paradox” in NPR.org, Alison Aubrey cites a study involving almost 3000 adults. This research has found that the dairy fats in milk, yogurt and cheese may help protect against Type 2 diabetes. “Beginning in the late 1980s, researchers took blood samples from the participants and measured circulating levels of biomarkers of dairy fat in their blood. Then, over the next two decades, the researchers tracked those among the participants who developed diabetes,” she writes.
She quotes Dariush Mozaffarian, one of the authors of the study: “People who had the most dairy fat in their diet had had about a 50% lower risk of diabetes compared with people who consumed the least dairy fat”. This selection of evidence suggests that dairy fat impacts positively on diabetes and cholesterol.
What might explain this phenomenon is that the higher levels of fat in whole milk products may make us feel fuller and as a result, the thinking goes, we may end up eating less. Or the explanation could be more complex. There may be bioactive substances in the milk fat that may be altering our metabolism in a way that helps us utilise the fat and burn it for energy, rather than storing it in our bodies.
Aubrey quotes Mark DeBoer, a paediatrician at the University of Virginia who believes the notion of ‘saturated fat is always bad for us’ is now under the question. DeBoer and Mozaffarian both believe that when people consume more low-fat dairy, they eat more carbohydrates as a way of compensating. Many high-carb foods such as cereals and breads that contain highly refined grains may in fact be less satisfying and can cause people to consume more calories.
With all the new evidence that challenges the ‘low-fat-is-best orthodoxy’, Mozaffarian says: “….it may be time to reconsider the National School Lunch Program rules, which allow only skimmed and low-fat milk and national policy should be neutral about dairy fat, until more information is available.”
However the recommendations that led to the fat-free dairy boom were, in part, born out of concerns about cholesterol. Whole-milk dairy products are relatively high in saturated fat. And eating too much saturated fat can increase the risk of heart disease. This leads many experts to continue to agree that adults with high cholesterol should continue to limit dairy fat.
It has long been known that organic whole milk contains beneficial omega-3 fatty acids which can help prevent clogging of the arteries and that calcium, protein, vitamin D and other nutrients found in yogurt are indeed good for us. However it is also increasingly becoming clear that we need the fat that goes along with them in order to benefit from their protective effects.