Summer 2016

There’s Something About Dairy

Whole-fat choices may have a health benefit

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Creamy, rich, decadent … and protective? A recent study by Friedman School researchers found that the dairy fat in milk, yogurt and cheese has a link to preventing diabetes.

The research, published in the journal Circulation, followed 3,333 adults over two decades, not only noting what they reported eating, but measuring biomarkers of dairy fat in their blood. In the end, the people who had the most dairy fat in their diet had a 46-percent lower risk of diabetes, compared with people who ate the least.

Satiety may explain why. While the study does not prove cause and effect, author Dariush Mozaffarian, dean of the Friedman School, says other studies have shown that when people consume more low-fat dairy, they eat more carbohydrates to compensate. Eating lots of refined, low-fiber carbohydrates that cause spikes in blood sugar has also been linked to a higher risk of diabetes.

It may be too early to call whole-fat dairy the healthiest choice, but Mozaffarian says there is enough research to reconsider policies that emphasize only low-fat options. The U.S. Dietary Guidelines, for example, recommend fat-free and low-fat dairy, reasoning that saturated fat—which is found in dairy, meat and other animal foods—has been shown in several studies to increase LDL cholesterol, a risk factor for heart disease.

Mozaffarian would like to see a nice glass of 2 percent back on the table for some people. “Our research indicates that the national policy should be neutral about dairy fat until we learn more,” he told NPR.

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