All current dietary recommendations suggest use of low fat dairy products. Low fat milk, skim milk, slim milk, reduced fat milk, low-fat cheese, lite butter , etc. This and much more to confuse the consumers and subject them to the added pain of selecting the low fat options which are costlier and less easily available. We cannot deny that total fat intake in diets is escalating and one needs to find ways to cut down consumption especially through processed meats and bakery products. But, dairy fat has not shown to increase risk of obesity, diabetes or heart disease and in fact may be more beneficial for all individuals.
Why has dairy fat earned a bad name?
Fat in milk is rich in saturated fats. Depending upon the chain length, saturated fatty acids can be further grouped as long (stearic acid) , medium chain (lauric, myristic, palmitic) or short chain (butyric acid) fatty acids.
Mostly saturated fat intake is associated with increased risk of coronary heart disease, especially those of medium chain lengths (e.g., lauric C12:0, myristic C14:0 and palmitic C16:0). Fatty cuts of meat, poultry skin, meat products such as sausages and pies, palm oil, pastry, cakes and biscuits, sweets, etc are the sources of the unhealthy saturated fats. These increase the bad cholesterol levels increasing risk of blockages in the heart vessels.
Dairy products such as milk, butter, cottage cheese, cheese, curd, etc contain majorly butyric acid which is the short chain saturated fatty acid and smaller amounts of medium chain saturated fatty acids. Extensive research have shown that saturated fat intake from dairy products does not increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Some positive findings from scientific studies:
- Increasing intake of dairy products such as milk, cheese and curds may help in the prevention of type 2 diabetes
- Butter intake is not significantly associated with any cardiovascular disease including coronary artery disease or stroke
- Dairy consumption may lead to reduced risk of CVD
- Increasing consumption of whole-fat dairy foods may have the potential to lower the prevalence of global and abdominal obesity.
Overall neutral or inverse association has observed between full fat dairy intake and risk of heart disease suggesting that there is no conclusive evidence to avoid full fat dairy products
While these recent studies bring good news for those who enjoy the creamy full-fat milk, we caution against indulgences. In our previous posts on going organic, we suggested that having organic milk is one of the best steps towards humanity and good health. So, a good option is to choose the farm fresh organic milk which is usually available as whole milk (full cream).
As long as the milk is being used for the daily intake in the form of tea/coffee or plain milk/ curd as a part of a healthy balanced diet, one may use the whole milk. However, the problem lies in the sugary milk based beverages such as cold coffees, lattes, thick shakes, frozen yogurts, ice creams, where extra cream is added. One needs to avoid these because of added calories from sugar and fat which are definitely beyond the daily requirement
If we know that our overall fat intake is very high despite the avoidance of processed and packaged foods, then we should chose the low fat dairy options. But, infants, children and elderly need the whole milk with all its goodness.
Chowdhury R et al. Association of dietary, circulating, and supplement fatty acids with coronary risk: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Ann Intern Med 2014;160:398-406.
Dr Pooja Chhawcharia is the Senior Nutritionist at eKincare with over 7 years of experience in Nutrition education, diet counseling and research. She is a Registered Dietician with the Indian Dietetic Association and Certified Diabetes Educator recognized by the International Diabetes federation . She is also interested in ancillary sciences such as Yoga and Naturopathy.