Dietary Fat: From Foe To Friend?

For decades we've believed it's a no-brainer when it comes to choosing lower fat dairy options like skim milk over their full-fat counterparts. And even the most recent dietary guidelines for Americans still emphasizes people choose fat-free or low-fat dairy as part of a healthy eating pattern. Do so and you'll trim your calorie and saturated fat intake but still take in important nutrients like calcium. But studies have emerged which call into question that dairy fat is a health boogeyman. In fact, some data even suggests it could do a body good. So should you be guzzling whole milk and spooning up full-fat yogurt?

Among the studies leading to a pendulum shift in how we view full-fat yogurt and cheese is a 2018 investigation in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition which found among 2,907 older adults there was no link between blood levels of three fatty acids known to correspond with dairy fat intake and any cause of death, including from heart disease or stroke. In fact, one type of saturated fatty acid -- heptadecanoic acid -- in dairy was associated with lower risk of stroke-related death.

Another study in the journal Circulation discovered those who had higher circulating blood levels of fats associated with dairy intake, on average, had a 46 percent lower risk of developing diabetes over a 15-year period than those with lower levels. More good news for blue cheese lovers: A recent University of Texas study reported that the substitution of 2 percent of daily calorie intake from meat-based saturated fat with calories from dairy-based saturated fat was associated with a 25 percent lower heart disease risk in 5,209 people over a decade.

And despite the extra calories it introduces, the fat in dairy may help, not hurt, in the battle against the bulge. A Harvard observational study of more than 18,000 middle-age women found that a greater intake of high-fat dairy products, but not the consumption of low-fat dairy items, was associated with less risk of weight gain over an 11-year period.

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