We are always at a lookout for healthy lifestyle changes which are relatively easy. Sooner or later we get caught up in the current health trends, especially if they are promoted widely in grocery stores and markets. One such trend that started few decades back and remains popular is eliminating or limiting fat including fat in dairy. Although fat rich diets consumption has tremendously decreased, cases of heart diseases, diabetes, obesity are increasing. Hence, not so surprisingly in 2015 USDA Dietary guidelines upper limit of fat intake has been eliminated.
1) Why dairy fat is important in our diet:
- Meta analysis of research conducted over past few years says adequate dairy fat consumption lowers liver fat, increases the body’s sensitivity to insulin. Increased insensitivity to insulin may lead to diabetes.
- Fatty acids present in dairy regulate the hepatic de novo lipogenesis, a biochemical cycle in body that stores energy from carbohydrates in the form of fat. Disruption of this cycle may lead to obesity, fatty liver diseases and metabolic syndrome.
2) Whole milk v/s low fat or skimmed milk:
- Low fat and fat free milk are the variants of regular milk where the milk is processed to reduce or completely remove the natural saturated fatty acids, trans-fats and cholesterol.
- Milk fat has a matrix of 400 different fatty acids, of which saturated fatty acids comprises the major portion. There are different kinds of saturated fatty acids.
- The long chain saturated fatty acids are presumed to raise the risk for heart diseases. But milk has a complex structure that has even the healthy short and medium chain saturated fatty acids.
3) Is saturated fat bad for you?
Decreasing the amount of calories gained from saturated fat not only decreases the levels of LDL, the bad cholesterol but also decreases levels of HDL, the good cholesterol.
Moreover, a study by UCLA reported that out of the patients admitted for heart attack 75% had low levels of the LDL and no diabetes. But they had below normal levels of the good cholesterol i.e., HDL. Therefore we should pay attention to HDL enhancing diets such as dairy foods rather focusing only on what not to eat to reduce LDL.
4) Why regular milk or whole milk and dairy foods based on whole milk are better option?
- Owing to the credulity of the consumers, manufacturers often act complacent with their marketing strategies. They label the low fat and fat-free dairy products as “light and healthy”.
- We usually focus on the saturated fat, trans- fatty acids and cholesterol content of the milk pack. But what we fail to notice on labels is the sodium and sugar content in low-fat and skimmed milk is higher than that present in whole milk.
- Data collected over a period of 10 years showed that dairy products, oils, salad dressings and baked goods with tags of low calories and low fat had more sugar content, more sodium content compared to the regular versions . As a result, we can see the increasing cases of diabetes and metabolic syndrome even though consumers opt for low calories and low fat diet.
- Studies even report that full fat/whole milk consumption has beneficial effects in protecting kids from severe childhood obesity.
- From a study published in journal of nutrition, full-fat/whole fat dairy consumption most likely prevents the risk of developing metabolic syndrome compared to low fat dairy. However, it doesn’t hold true in case of consuming dairy based desserts.
5) Low fat dairy for individuals with metabolic syndrome:
In men with metabolic syndrome daily servings of low fat dairy was found to reduce the glucose levels compared to those who were on carbohydrates diet. Whereas, in case of women, daily servings of low fat dairy was found to reduce body weight, waist circumference and also body mass index.
What to eat and what not to eat:
- Having normal levels of good cholesterol in body is as important as having low levels of bad cholesterol.
- Whole milk, full fat fermented dairy products like yogurt and cheeses (cottage cheese, Gouda type cheeses) are sources of good cholesterol.
- If you don’t have any metabolic diseases then it is healthier to use whole milk. You can dilute the whole milk with water if you are skeptical on using whole milk.
- Choose cheese over butter and butter over margarine.
- Fermented dairy products provide vitamin B complex. Lactose intolerant can take fermented dairy as the bacterial lactase digests the lactose present in milk.
- If not lactose intolerant, then substituting your daily milk intake with soy milk, rice milk, almond milk and oats milk may not be a plausible healthy choice. Most of the brands have around 13-14gms of sugar for every 240ml of plant based drinks. Hence, every serving has 3-4 teaspoons of sugar.
- Moreover, except for soy milk, plant based drinks have very low protein content compared to milk and could lead to nutritional deficiencies especially in children.
- Milk is a natural source of monounsaturated fatty acids and polyunsaturated fatty acids. They have innumerable health benefits due to their anti oxidant properties. So choice is yours whether to exclude or include milk in your diet.
- Milk is a natural source of calcium and vitamin D and is recommended in pregnant women to prevent Preeclampsia
Metabolic syndrome: If an individual has any three of the following conditions then he has the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and/or cardiovascular diseases.
- High blood pressure
- High blood sugar
- Low HDL
- Abdominal or central obesity
- High serum triglycerides.