As if the prevention of diabetes couldn’t get more confusing at times, a new study has found that dairy fats in milk, yogurt and cheese may help protect against Type 2 diabetes.
The research, which involved 3,333, began back in the 1980’s and was recently published in the journal Circulation.
Researchers took blood samples and measured circulating levels of biomarkers of dairy fat in their blood and then tracked who among the participants developed diabetes over the following two decades.
“People who had the most dairy fat in their diet had about a 50 percent lower risk of diabetes” compared with people who consumed the least dairy fat, said Dariush Mozaffarian, dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, an author of the study.
While providing no distinct cause and effect, the study adds to increasing evidence that suggests dairy fat may have protective properties, both in reducing diabetes risk and in controlling body weight.
“For a long time we’ve had this notion that saturated fat [the kind found in dairy products] is always bad for you,” says Mark DeBoer, a pediatrician at the University of Virginia.
But this assumption is being questioned. As NPR reported, DeBoer published surprising findings on the connection between dairy fat and weight.
Compared with kids who consume skim or nonfat dairy products, “it appears that children who have a higher intake of whole milk or 2 percent milk gain less weight over time,” said DeBoer.
Other research done in Sweden has also shown that those who consumed whole milk and butter were better at keeping their weight under control.
According to the NPR Report, it’s difficult to fully explain these counterintuitive findings.
It’s possible that “the fat in dairy makes you less hungry to eat some other foods,” says DeBoer.
And there’s evidence that “when people consume more low-fat dairy, they eat more carbohydrates” as a way of compensating, says Mozaffarian.
Many high-carb foods such as cereals, breads and snacks that contain highly refined grains are less satiating and can prompt people to eat 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 skim and low-fat milk.
“Our research indicates that the national policy should be neutral about dairy fat, until we learn more,” says Mozaffarian.