Full-fat Dairy Helps You Avoid Prediabetes and Diabetes

Patient Expert

Go for that latte with whole milk, today. The official Dietary Guidelines still advise us to limit the amount of saturated fat that we eat. But a large study of more than 15,000 adults published a few days ago concluded that when people eat a lot of full-fat dairy foods they are less likely to get the metabolic syndrome.

What Is the Metabolic Syndrome?

The metabolic syndrome is a group of five risk factors that can increase your chance of developing heart disease, diabetes, and stroke. One of these five risk factors is insulin resistance, which usually leads to prediabetes and on to diabetes. You can reverse prediabetes, but there is no cure for diabetes.

What we now call the metabolic syndrome was first proposed by Gerald M. Reaven, M.D. as “syndrome X.” We now use the terms "metabolic syndrome," "insulin resistance syndrome," and "syndrome X" interchangeably to define that constellation of abnormalities associated with increased risk for the development of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.

The new research, published as “Total and Full-Fat, but Not Low-Fat, Dairy Product Intakes are Inversely Associated with Metabolic Syndrome in Adults,” is in the January 2016 issue of The Journal of Nutrition. The full-text of the study is available free online.

Whole Milk, Yogurt, and Cheese

The study found that people who eat full-fat dairy products, like whole milk, yogurt, and cheese, are less likely to suffer from the metabolic syndrome. “Total and especially full-fat dairy food intakes are inversely and independently associated with metabolic syndrome in middle-aged and older adults, associations that seem to be mediated by dairy saturated fatty acids,” the research said. “Dietary recommendations to avoid full-fat dairy intake are not supported by our findings.”

The researchers analyzed data from the Brazilian Longitudinal Study of Adult Health (ELSA-Brasil). They didn’t find that low-fat dairy products -- those that the current official dietary guidelines recommend -- helped people to avoid getting the metabolic syndrome. They discovered instead that there is an inverse association for metabolic disease with regular and full-fat dairy.

In particular, full-fat fermented dairy products are beneficial. They specifically mention yogurt in the study, but kefir is another fermented dairy product.

The Best Saturated Fat?

What is it in saturated fat that’s so good for us? Dairy fat has several bioactive substances, and the authors of the new study speculate that this good fat is myristic acid. The technical shorthand for it is 14:0. The common foods highest in myristic acid are palm kernel and coconut oil, coconut meat, and butter fat.

Largely because of the Dietary Guidelines, which the U.S. government has published since 1980, Americans are eating less and less full-fat dairy. For example, “Whole milk consumption has plummeted in the United States, falling by a massive 78 percent since 1970,” according to statistics from the USDA.

The Dietary Guidelines aren’t a law. We can be healthier when we march to the beat of our own drum.

See more of my articles on how to manage diabetes:

At Risk For Diabetes? The Answer May Lie in Dairy

Saturated Fat is Back for People with Diabetes

Broken Link Between Saturated Fat and Heart Health