Full Fat Dairy Lowers Your Risk of Obesity

ButterWhen i tell my patients that I am fine with them consuming full fat dairy products including butter I see  a mixture of responses. For many, there is a great relief that the butter they have been avoiding for the last 20 years (or consuming guiltily) can now be used. For others, the prospect of consuming full fat milk, cheese or yogurt still seems risky. After all, they have been hearing from the American Heart Association, the USDA nutritional guidelines and pretty much every nutritional advice column for the last 30 years that these products increase their risk of heart disease and contribute to obesity. Why should they believe their local cardiologist, a lone voice promoting full fat dairy against a chorus of naysayers?
Hopefully, by continuing to present scientific research on the topic I can make this concept more acceptable and counter the misinformation that is so prevalent

Researchers in Sweden have followed a cohort of rural men for over 12 years. In a previous study they found that daily intake of fruit and vegetables in combination with a high dairy fat intake was associated with a lower risk of coronary heart disease. Recently they examined their data to answer the question : how does dairy fat intake impact on the risk of developing central obesity in this middle-aged male cohort?

What is central obesity?

Central obesity refers to fat that builds up inside the abdomen. It is often measured by measuring the waist circumference: > 102 cm for males and 88 cm for females is a  marker of central obesity. Central or abdominal obesity indicates insulin resistance and is part of the metabolic syndrome and well known to increase the risk of diabetes.  It is also associated with heart disease, various cancers, and dementia. In this Swedish study, central obesity was defined as waist hip ratio ≥ 1.
The study found that 197 men (15%) developed central obesity during follow-up. A low intake of dairy fat at baseline (no butter and low fat milk and seldom/never whipping cream) was associated with a higher risk of developing central obesity (OR 1.53, 95% CI 1.05-2.24) and a high intake of dairy fat (butter as spread and high fat milk and whipping cream) was associated with a lower risk of central obesity (OR 0.52, 95% CI 0.33-0.83) as compared with medium intake (all other combinations of spread, milk, and cream) after adjustment for intake of fruit and vegetables, smoking, alcohol consumption, physical activity, age, education, and profession

Yes, these data show that participants were three times more likely to develop central obesity if they consumed skim milk and no butter compared to those who drank high fat milk and butter.

This is not an isolated finding. There is a wealth of data supporting the concept that full fat diary is less associated with obesity and markers of the metabolic syndrome, diabetes and insulin resistance.

120px-CheeseAnother recent study in a Basque population in Spain found that  participants with low or moderate consumption of cheese (high fat) compared to high consumption of cheese (high fat) had a higher prevalence of excess weight

Why do people falsely believe that fat in general and high fat dairy in particular promotes obesity?

In the past, supporters of this concept (and there are less and less in the scientific world)  would point to the energy density of fat which contains 9 calories per gram compared to 4 calories per gram for carbohydrates or protein. Obviously, if obesity is determined by calories in versus calories out then the food with more % fat compared to carbs or protein is providing more calories. All things being equal, one could expect to grow fatter on the higher % fat diet. All things are not equal, however, because one doesn’t determine how much one consumes based on the volume or weight of the food entering the mouth.

There are far more complex factors at work. How does the mixture of food components effect satiety? What is the insulin response to the food? What are the other components of the food such as vitamins, fiber, calcium and how do they interact with food absorption and metabolism?

So, even though this contradicts what has been drummed into your head for 30 years: eat full fat yogurt , cheese and milk , not fat-free, if you want to avoid getting fat

6 thoughts on “Full Fat Dairy Lowers Your Risk of Obesity”

  1. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0735109715046914
    Aaargh. New confusion regarding the consumption of saturated fat, following a study recently published online in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.
    The authors of the paper, led by Li Yanping from the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, conclude that unsaturated fatty acids, especially polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) and/or high-quality carbohydrates can be used to replace saturated fatty acids (SFAs) to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease (CHD).
    Clarifications? Comments?

    1. We have to take this paper in the context of all the other evidence that has emerged in the last 10 years which has been exonerating saturated fats.
      Furthermore, it has to be understood that just as all fats were not bad for us, all saturated fats are not the same. In particular, there is no evidence that dairy saturated fats increase heart disease risk and grass fed , pasture-raised beef has healthier fats than factory produced beef.
      For a detailed breakdown of the Yanping study check out Axel Sigurdson’s post at http://www.docsopinion.com/2015/10/19/saturated-fat-back-in-the-gutter-failing-to-see-the-bigger-picture/

    1. I’m aware of the studies suggesting a link between choline ingestion and production of TMAO by the intestinal micro biome. I consider these preliminary, exploratory and hypothesis-generating at this point. Consider how focused every one was on homocysteine levels 10 years ago as it seemed clearly associated with atherosclerosis. A well done trial of folate supplementation with reduction of homocysteine levels was finally performed with negative results and now we don’t worry about homocysteine levels.
      TMAO as a risk factor for atherosclerosis needs a lot more studies before we should be concerned about it.
      Interestingly, I would say the only major academic nutritional site focusing on this is the Cleveland Clinic site from which a lot of the early studies in this area came and the study you reference.

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