Agri Leader

Getting leaner with ag's full-fat option

Does a glass of creamy white whole milk conjure up memories from your childhood? Does it bring you back to a time when your diet worries did not limit you to reduced fat or even skim milk - a choice you feel obligated to make to stay healthy?

Well, some research published last year may make your head spin. They found that you may find it easier to stay lean if you incorporate some full-fat dairy products into your diet.

In a February 2013 European Journal of Nutrition study, researchers in Washington state reviewed data on the consumption of dairy fat and obesity. After reviewing 16 studies, they found most of the research did not find a link between high-fat dairy intake and obesity and related risk factors. In fact, the people in the studies who ate high-fat dairy products were less likely to be obese.

Then, a June 2013 study in the Scandinavian Journal of Primary Health Care tracked the development of obesity in men from nine areas of Sweden over 12 years, focusing specifically on obesity and dairy fat intake. They found that the men who became obese over that time were more likely to have consumed low-fat milk and to have avoided butter. On the other hand, the men who consumed high-fat milk, butter, and whipping cream had a lower risk of obesity. The researchers noted that they controlled for other health factors, such as smoking, fruit and vegetable intake, and physical activity.

If you're starting to think about your breakfast - and lunch and dinner - in a whole new way, let's first explain these findings.

It seems that consuming full-fat dairy products may help get us full and keep us full. Your body's not left wanting more fat because it's gotten what it wanted - unlike with the low-fat food options. Reports online about these two studies also point out whole fat milk has health-beneficial omega-3 fatty acids.

There's no question that we as Americans have leaned (pun intended) toward leaner dairy options over the past few years. As the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board shared with me, per capita whole milk consumption fell from 62.4 pounds in 2002 to 44.6 pounds in 2012. They also noted that during that same time, reduced and low-fat milk experienced some growth, but it dipped again in 2012. The board added that although we're drinking less milk overall, we're making up for it by consuming more of other dairy items, like cheese, butter, and yogurt.

Studies like the ones I discuss in this article show there is potential for the increased sales of both butter and whole milk, the marketing board added.

I also checked in with the Altamonte Springs-based Dairy Council of Florida on the topic. "Emerging research has found specific benefits associated with consumption of foods containing milk fat," said Alyssa Greenstein, RD, LD/N, senior manager of nutrition affairs. "The totality of the food, not solely a single component, should be considered with making food choices to build a healthy diet."

Good point. We can't expect to eat without any concern about fat (or sugar) and stay healthy. Your dairy choice has to be a good fit with the rest of your food choices.

But that leaves the question about saturated fat - the kind of fat that's notoriously not good for us. An eight-ounce glass of whole milk delivers five grams of the saturated stuff.

Well, get this. Although it did not relate specifically to dairy products, a study published last month in the Annals of Internal Medicine that aimed to summarize evidence between fatty acids and coronary disease did not find a clear link between saturated fat consumption and increased heart disease.

In other words, maybe some saturated fat is really just one player in our overall food and health choices.

Do I hear someone opening the bacon wrapper?