Helping people achieve and maintain a healthy body weight is important since, as we health and wellness professionals know, obesity increases the risk for chronic health concerns including high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes. If you are familiar with the DASH diet, it may come as no surprise that including recommended servings of low-fat or fat-free milk, yogurt, and cheese as part of a balanced eating plan may be part of the solution when it comes to reducing cardiovascular disease risk. As noted in the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) and as science continues to support, consumption of dairy products is linked to reduced risk of certain chronic diseases and does not play a role in weight management.
There has been little research on the relationship between weight and specific types of dairy foods, including full-fat versions. However, recently researchers from Australia and Luxembourg started to fill this research gap – and their results may surprise you. They conducted a cross-sectional study of 1,352 adults enrolled in the Observation of Cardiovascular Risk Factors in Luxembourg survey to determine whether eating milk, cheese, and yogurt – low-fat and whole-fat versions – were related to obesity. They found that total dairy food consumption (whole-fat milk, cheese, and yogurt), after adjustment for confounding factors, were significantly associated with a lower prevalence of overall obesity and abdominal obesity, of nearly 50 percent. Specifically, those who ate the most vs. the least whole-fat milk and whole-fat yogurt when compared with lower fat versions had significantly reduced odds for overall and abdominal obesity.
It is important to keep in mind that this type of study doesn’t prove causality, but the results are intriguing. The researchers suggest that perhaps those with higher consumption of dairy foods may have overall healthier lifestyles and eat more fruit, vegetables, and whole grains – which may have influenced the results. However, the relationships remained unchanged even after statistical adjustment for lifestyle and daily intakes of fruit, vegetables and whole grains.
When counselling people about how to achieve and maintain a healthy weight, controlling calories and limiting portion sizes are among the most important strategies. And choosing the lowest-fat versions of foods is often recommended to keep from consuming excess calories. However, emerging research suggests that higher-fat versions of dairy foods may fit within a balanced and healthful eating plan.
Perhaps using strategies of shredding lower fat Cheddar, Swiss or mozzarella cheese on vegetables or salads or pairing with whole grain crackers as a snack is a way to help people not only eat one of the recommended three servings of dairy, but also one or two servings of other recommended food groups. There is power in pairing nutrient-rich foods!