We’re all used to watching nutrition pendulum swing back and forth, back and forth. You know what I mean:
One nutritionist blogger made a big list of advice she’s read, which is subject to change without notice:
- Don’t eat eggs, they are too high in cholesterol.
- Really, don’t eat any fat because it is all bad for your heart.
- Don’t drink caffeine containing beverages.
- Don’t drink soda or juice, they are full of sugar.
- Don’t drink diet drinks because they will give you cancer.
- Drink only water, but be careful because the bottle is harmful and tap water is full of contaminants and the natural spring water is really bottled from the tap at the bottling company.
- Don’t use salt in cooking and avoid all foods made with salt.
- Oh yeah, you can use sea salt or Himalayan salt.
- Don’t eat butter, only eat margarine.
- Oh yeah, don’t ever eat margarine because it contains trans fat.
- Oh yeah, don’t eat any fat.
- Oh yeah, eat as much coconut fat as you want, it’s a good saturated fat.
Last month, JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) took on the issue of whole-fat vs. non-fat dairy consumption: which is better for us?
tl:dr version: they don’t know. But they want us to eat low-fat dairy anyway.
It’s not for lack of trying that they don’t know whether high-fat dairy or no-fat dairy promotes or detracts from health, and in what ways. They’ve tried. Oh, they’ve tried a lot. But the results are conflicting.
…some recent studies have suggested that high-fat milk, cheese, and yogurt are at least as healthful as their low-fat or nonfat counterparts, and their authors are questioning the wisdom of advising people to avoid whole milk and products made with it.JAMA Dec 5, 2018
“I don’t think there’s enough evidence to recommend low-fat dairy,” said cardiologist Dariush Mozaffarian, MD, dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University. However, Mozaffarian added, “I don’t think there’s enough evidence to recommend whole-fat dairy, either.”
Uh, okay. But why isn’t there enough evidence to answer this question?
Part of the problem is dairy’s fault. Well, not really. But dairy products are not all created equal. Some cheeses are fermented, and some yogurts have probiotics, says Frank Hu, nutrition chair at Harvard School of Public Health.
Also, we eat dairy in different ways, Hu says:
For example, Hu said, while US consumers chow down on cheeseburgers and pizza, Europeans are more likely to eat cheese for cheese’s sake, not as a topping for foods that without it are already high in fat or sodium or both.
When researchers try to study the effects of dairy fat intake, they have to deal with the problems of which dairy products may be responsible for which effects, and which populations are affected by these results, as different regions eat different dairy products at differing rates.
Okay, fine. Maybe we need to throw some fancy technology at the problem– how about looking at biomarkers and seeing if there are correlations with risk for heart disease and other potentially related health problems?
They did that, too. No luck.
There are ongoing observational studies, where researchers observe and measure lots of features of participants who are consuming varying amounts of dairy fat in their diets over time. But even when they get results from these studies, they don’t tend to trust them:
[Mario Kratz, nutrition professor, University of Washington] “…people who eat the most full-fat dairy products in observational studies are usually among the ones who gain the least amount of weight.” That seems counterintuitive, but …“it’s very likely that there’s a type of compensation going on.” Low-fat or nonfat dairy isn’t as filling as whole-fat dairy, so people might end up craving unhealthy snacks if they opt for the former, he said. However, he added, “I would never recommend people consume large amounts of butter and cream.”Still JAMA; I’ll let you know when it changes.
Hey Mario– why wouldn’t you recommend that people eat lots of butter and cream? You just said there’s not evidence that it’s bad for us.
Well, maybe Mario is just following the US Dietary Guidelines on Dairy, which say this:
- Recommendations are 2 cups (or the equivalent in yogurt or cheese) for children ages 2 to 3 years, 2½ cups for children ages 4 to 8 years, and 3 cups for teens ages 9 to 18 years and for adults.
- Fat-free and low-fat dairy are advised.
Frank Hu is of the same view. Even though there doesn’t seem to be much firm evidence that high-fat dairy is bad for us (and there’s some evidence that it’s good for us), he says he doesn’t expect nutrition recommendations to change soon. Why? Because “more research is needed to examine health effects of different types of dairy products in diverse populations.”
So, we’re back to they don’t know. But they are still recommending low or no-fat dairy consumption.
You might think: well, better safe than sorry. But the thing is, they don’t know which is safer– no-fat or high-fat dairy. And I would be very sorry to have to eat low or no-fat dairy, as it doesn’t taste like anything to me. But Frank Hu says we shouldn’t stress about it; “Overall dietary pattern is very important, and dairy is only 1 of many food items on our plate.”
Excellent. In that case, I am going to not stress and enjoy these.
What do you do when you read some new nutritional advice? Do you take it with a grain of salt (provided you don’t eat low-sodium)? Do you shift with the pendulum? Do you ignore them all? I’d love to hear from you.