Drink your milk?

When I opened up the Sunday paper, I noticed an article that cited the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Health and Human Services.  I agreed with almost all of the key recommendations such as “enjoy your food, but eat less of it; avoid oversized portions; eat more vegetables and fruits; eat more whole grains.”  I was somewhat surprised that amidst these very reasonable recommendations there was the recommendation to “switch to and increase your intake of fat-free or low-fat (1 percent) milk.”  I have my own reasoning for not wanting to drink fat free or 1 percent milk that has to do with taste, but I knew that I had read about other reasons to question this recommendation as well.  I offer just a few ideas for you to consider. 

First, the research on whether or not fat-free or low-fat milk has health benefits is controversial.  The 2010 Dietary Guidelines say  “A strong body of evidence indicates that higher intake of most dietary saturated fatty acids is associated with higher levels of blood total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. Higher total and LDL cholesterol levels are risk factors for cardiovascular disease.”

However, a meta-analysis conducted in 2010 of 21 studies concluded that there is no significant evidence for concluding that dietary saturated fat  (the kind found in milk) is associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease or cardiovascular disease. (Am J Clin Nutr 2010; 91: 535-46).

The 2010 Dietary Guidelines say “There is limited evidence to conclude whether synthetic and natural trans fatty acids differ in their metabolic effects and health outcomes” therefore “consuming fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products …will reduce the intake of natural trans fatty acids.”

However, from the Cornell University websitehttp://www.milkfacts.info/Nutrition%20Facts/Milk%20and%20Human%20Health.htmI found the following information regarding nutrition facts about milk.  “There is a movement in the U.S. and other developed countries to minimize consumption of trans fatty acids and their presence in the food supply. However, the transfatty acids of concern are those that are generated during partial hydrogenation of vegetable oils to create desirable functional properties for use in margarines, baked goods, and many other processed foods. There is a difference in the health effects of trans fatty acids obtained by industrial processing of vegetable oil andtrans fatty acids that naturally occur in ruminant animal fat found in milk and meat.”

Third, the association between total dietary fat and cancer is still under debate.  Again, from the Cornell University website I found “the anticarcinogenic properties of CLA have been studied in numerous laboratory settings.  There is strong evidence that CLA inhibits breast cancer at the initiation and growth stages. CLA is also effective in inhibiting skin, stomach and colon cancers.  CLA is found in the milk fat, therefore, dairy products that have higher fat content will have a higher CLA content.” This would seem to imply that there is an important benefit that we receive from the fat in milk.

Lastly, the seeming obsession with eating “low fat” and “no fat” foods has seemed to be as much of a marketing ploy as anything grounded in fact.  Of course we need to watch how much fat we consume.  But, taking a natural product such as milk and cheese and suggesting that we only consume the lowest fat product available to us may not be the wisest place to cut back on fat.  How about “stop eating anything fried?”  I’d much rather hear a recommendation about that than the one about milk.

While I realize there might not be a direct causal relationship, the more low fat products there are on the market the more obese we have become.   Focusing on “low or no fat” appears to be doing more to side step the real issues that would be helpful for people, such as eat moderate portions and exercise on a regular basis.   I have found that eating less processed food (such as full fat cheese and even 2% milk) is generally more filling and satisfying so I eat or drink less.

In the book “Mindful Eating,” Dr. Jan Chozen Bays suggest that we be skeptical whenever we read the latest “truths” announced by the doctors and research scientists because the “truth” often changes over time.   Whenever you take a natural product like milk and begin to mess with it (to supposedly make it better) before you eat or drink it, I get concerned.