The Milk

One More Strike Against Low Fat Dairy

Over the last 15 years or so, we’ve shaken off some bad dietary advice that swallowed us in the 1980s. Low fat everything was supposed to be the foundation for a healthy diet. Until it wasn’t. But one piece of that dogma has held its place in dietary guidelines. The 2015 guidelines for Americans still recommend low fat dairy. However, this week another major study calls that guidance into question.

Dairy Fat: Saturated But Possibly Good for You

Marcia Otto, PhDIn the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Marcia Otto and colleagues report their study of the relationship between consuming dairy fat and the risk of heart disease. What’s different about this study is that it uses biomarkers for dairy fat consumption – not self reports. In other words, they didn’t rely on people to remember how much and what kind of dairy products they consumed. They measured levels in the body.

After 13 years of following 2,907 adults over 65, they found no evidence that consuming dairy fat increases the risk of heart disease or death from heart disease. In fact, they found that one fatty acid in dairy – heptadecanoic acid – was linked to a lower risk of death from heart disease or stroke.

Conventional wisdom holds that all saturated fats pose a problem for heart health. Dairy fat is saturated fat, and thus, recommendations for low fat dairy keep hanging on in dietary guidelines.

Time to Revisit the Guidelines?

Otto suggests that it’s time to revisit dietary guidelines that favor low fat dairy:

Consistent with previous findings, our results highlight the need to revisit current dietary guidance on whole fat dairy foods, which are rich sources of nutrients such as calcium and potassium. These are essential for health not only during childhood but throughout life, particularly also in later years when undernourishment and conditions like osteoporosis are more common,

We, too, are wondering how much longer low fat dairy recommendations will linger, now that the evidence base for them appears weaker than ever.

Click here for the study. For further perspective, click here and here. If you’re looking for an account of how low fat dietary guidance rose to dominance, click here.

The Milk, painting by Nikolaos Lytras / WikiArt

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July 14, 2018

5 Responses to “One More Strike Against Low Fat Dairy”

  1. July 14, 2018 at 8:59 am, John DiTraglia said:

    I split the difference by drinking 2% because it tastes better than skim milk. No science involved though.

  2. July 14, 2018 at 1:15 pm, David Stone said:

    Hi Ted,

    “Consistent with previous findings, our results highlight the need to revisit current dietary guidance on whole fat dairy foods, which are rich sources of nutrients such as calcium and potassium. These are essential for health not only during childhood but throughout life, particularly also in later years when undernourishment and conditions like osteoporosis are more common,”

    Is the implication of the above that when whole-fat dairy foods are avoided, no dairy products (such as reduced-fat products) at all will be consumed to replace them? That would seem unlikely.

    Or is the implication that removing fat from whole milk also removes substantial amounts of calcium and potassium? These two nutrients are not associated with fat in the milk, and by removing fat, each cup of the resulting lower-fat milk has somewhat more calcium and potassium as the volume is made up by increasing the non-fat fraction which is where the Ca and K+ are found.

    Cheers,

    David Stone

  3. July 14, 2018 at 7:37 pm, Ted said:

    Those words come directly from Dr. Otto’s manuscript, David. So she might be the best person to explain what she meant. However, it’s worth noting that her comments were about dairy products generally, and not just whole versus skim milk. Among the dairy products that people consume is a lot of cheese. But current guidelines encourage limiting that because of saturated dairy fat.

  4. July 15, 2018 at 5:29 pm, Susannah Southern said:

    As a practicing RD who is attempting to provide evidence-based nutrition advice to patients, I find this development pretty exciting. We are learning that not all saturated fatty acids behave the same in the body. As for cheese specifically, I still caution patients who form certain types of kidney stones to eat it in smaller amounts related to the high renal acid load of cheese. Also, I keep seeing cheese pop-up as something to avoid almost entirely on the new MIND diet recommendations to reduce risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s. Life without cheese?

  5. July 15, 2018 at 6:11 pm, Erik Arnesen said:

    It’s more interesting that heptadecanoic acid (C17:0) is now believed to be a poor biomarker for dairy fat. It´s also produced by gut bacteria from dietary fiber. So they might have measures something else. Besides, those with the highest C17:0 consumed less than one serving of normal fat dairy products a day. This study does not justify increasing the current intake levels.