We’ve known that “milk does a body good” for a long time. But a new study may have more parents asking, “Got Milk?”
That’s because the dairy fats found in milk, yogurt and cheese may help protect against type 2 diabetes, based on new research published in the journal Circulation.
The study included 3,333 adults 30-75 years of age. Those who consumed the most dairy fat in their diet had about a 50% lower risk of diabetes than those who consumed the least. The findings also contribute to the growing body of evidence that dairy fat may help people manage body weight.
As summer rolls around and children start begging for ice cream, we checked in with Danielle Dimengo, a clinical dietitian at Akron Children’s center for diabetes and endocrinology, to get her take on what this study means for children.
Q: How is it possible that consuming higher dairy fat content could lead to lower diabetes and obesity risks?
DIMENGO: It likely has to do with the metabolism of fat and protein in the body and how we feel after eating foods that contain them. Fat and protein, which are both major components of dairy, help food stay in the stomach longer, which creates that extended feeling of fullness. This increased satiety may result in children consuming fewer calories in the long run because they aren’t hungry for a snack right after a meal.
Q: What do you make of this new study?
DIMENGO: Long-standing research has shown that saturated fats, particularly fats from animal products, are typically viewed as bad fats. This new research is challenging the notion that fat is bad and will lead to obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
As more promising research like this comes out, current recommendations will need to be examined and potentially adjusted to match the latest findings.
However, it’s important to note that this is a correlational study. So you can’t say there’s a direct cause and effect link that eating higher-fat dairy will lower your diabetes risk – or that we should immediately change our habits. That’s why organizations like the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Heart Association and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics have not changed their recommendations – at least not yet.
Q: What are those recommendations?
DIMENGO: For adolescents and adults, the AHA and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics have always recommended limiting your intake of saturated fats. That means sticking to low-fat dairy – meaning skim or 1%.
Looking at your total calorie intake, saturated fats should be less than 10% of those calories – or less than 7% if heart disease is already present.
The recommendations are much different for very young children. For infants to 2 year olds, we want them to have full fat content the majority of the time because their brains and nervous systems are developing and they need that extra fat and cholesterol for growth.
Once kids hit 2 years old, the AAP, AHA and Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics all recommend switching to lower-fat options, unless the child is having issues growing or putting on weight.
Q: What is a good rule of thumb for ice cream treats in the summer?
DIMENGO: The bottom line is that moderation is key. We advise eating a variety of fats with the majority coming from monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats found in foods like nuts, seeds and avocados. You want to have variety in your diet, so eat from all of the food groups.
Also, it’s best to vary your fat intake, so don’t serve full-fat dairy all day. Maybe serve your kids full-fat milk in the morning and then pack a low-fat yogurt with their lunch. Or even consider low-fat options throughout the day with the exception of an ice cream treat.
In moderation, that ice cream won’t be harmful – and per the latest research it may even end up being helpful.
Q: How can parents keep up with the latest recommendations?
DIMENGO: At Akron Children’s our job as registered dietitians is to stay current on these types of studies and sort out the answers for parents. Over 15 dietitians cover various subspecialties and stay current on research and recommendations, giving parents and our patients a direct line to the latest information.
For those families that don’t have access to a dietitian, I recommend looking at some key reliable resources, such as:
- The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website allows parents to search for serving recommendations from dairy to grains to fruit and more.
- The USDA Choose My Plate site offers guidelines on the 5 food groups and includes games, activities and kid-friendly recipes.
- The AHA site also includes dietary recommendations for healthy children.