Low-fat dairy versus higher-fat dairy has been a point of contention for some time. In grad school, we were taught that low-fat dairy is what we should recommend. But with new research coming out, plus the fact that I think higher-fat dairy is more delicious, I thought we should shed some light on the subject.
Also #disclaimer, the majority of this work was done by my boyfriend #RD2be. Thanks Alex!
So, let’s break it down!
Do you remember the days of fat-free everything?
The so-called “fat-free” craze started in the 1960s and 1970s, after researchers working on the Seven Countries Study claimed that eating fat increased your risk for developing heart disease. These findings scared the public and, as a result, the following decades were filled with weight loss programs and food products that excluded large amounts of fat from the diet, including full-fat dairy options.
In the last decade, we’ve been finding that saturated fat might not be as unhealthy as we originally thought. In one national study, participants reduced the amount of saturated fat they ate, while also increasing their fruit and vegetable intake. After doing this for 6 years, the researchers found that people eating less saturated fat weren’t any less likely to die from heart disease. Another long-term study (which involved 6,000+ participants over the course of 10 years) found that there was no link between eating dairy sources of saturated fat and heart disease. However, the researchers did find an association between eating other animal sources of saturated fat (beef, pork, lamb etc.) and heart disease.
So does this mean you can eat all the saturated fat you want? Probably not.
There is still a lot of research that shows eating less saturated fat leads to better health outcomes. One study found that when participants replaced 1% of their daily caloric intake from saturated fats with polyunsaturated fats, their LDL cholesterol levels and likelihood of developing heart disease dropped. Another study found that eating greater amounts of low-fat dairy products was linked with lower blood pressure in an older population who had a high risk for heart disease.
Most importantly, the USDA Dietary Guidelines still recommends that Americans should be consuming low-fat dairy products instead of the regular full-fat options, and that Americans should consume no more than 10% of their daily calories from saturated fats. The Dietary Guidelines are created through a rigorous analysis of all the existing scientific data; which means there is enough evidence to support that consuming less saturated fat is still the healthiest option.
So, what do we do?
There is still a lot of evidence supporting the health benefits of consuming low-fat dairy products. However, it appears that consuming dairy sources of saturated fat may be fine, so if you prefer the taste of 2% yogurt over non-fat, I say go for it! Additionally, the increased fat in these dairy products may cause you to feel more satiated after eating them. Also, it is super important to note that eating fat WILL NOT make you fat. (Side not: If I could have told that to my 12 year old self, I would have eaten way more chocolate and less fat-free Red Vines). So to recap, if you enjoy eating a higher fat dairy product, then give it a try!
Try these tips to mix up your dairy habits:
- Eat less meat, in particular, red meat to decrease your saturated fat intake
- Use olive oil instead of butter or coconut oil in your cooking
- Eat a 2% yogurt with your breakfast instead of your original fat-free version
Do you eat dairy? What are your favorite dairy products?