"Jack Sprat could eat no fat. His wife could eat no lean.” This might be a modern day couple, with one spouse following a plant-based low-fat diet while the other adheres to a high-fat, low-carb regimen with generous portions of meat and dairy.

Among consumers and health experts, there’s a lot of disagreement about what constitutes a healthy diet. One thing is certain: Not all carbs or all fats are created equal. Within each macronutrient group, there are healthier options. The good news for our industry is that science continues to support full-fat dairy foods as a healthy choice.


High-fat vs. high-carb

The 2018 International Food Information Council study revealed that that 25% of Americans believe that carbohydrates cause weight gain, and 3% of Americans are on a ketogenic (keto) high-fat diet. Another 13% are on some other carb-restricted diet.

According to the Institute of Medicine, the Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Ranges for macronutrients are: protein, 10% to 35% of calories; carbohydrates, 40% to 65% of calories; and fat, 20% to 35% of calories. Diets that vary significantly from these ranges — including the keto diet, which recommends 60% to 75% of calories from fat — may be effective for short-term weight gain, but tend to be boring and difficult to comply with over the long term. A 2013 meta-analysis (https://tinyurl.com/y8tu5dp5) revealed that individuals on very low-carbohydrate keto diets actually did lose more weight than those on low-fat diets.

“While the ketogenic diet has been shown to be effective for clinical purposes such as the treatment of epilepsy, it may not be appropriate for the rest of the population, particularly vulnerable groups such as children and elderly, and lacks robust evidence to support its role in long-term weight loss,” said Ashley Rosales, RDN, program director of community health and nutrition science for Dairy Council of California. “We recommend following a healthy eating pattern that includes a variety of nutrient-dense choices from all the food groups — dairy, vegetables, fruits, grains and protein — to support optimal health and weight management.”

Dairy foods contain a complex structure of nutrients that differ from isolated food components. The unique nutrients in milk — including protein, calcium, vitamin D, potassium, and more — work together to reduce the risk of chronic conditions such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.


Dairy research update

Americans’ top reasons for adhering to a specific diet are to promote heart health and to lose weight. Dairy shines in both categories.

“Research continues to show that milk, yogurt and cheese consumption is not associated with an increased risk of CVD (cardiovascular disease), and some studies show that consuming full-fat dairy can potentially reduce CVD risk,” Rosales said. She cites three studies:

  • Robust scientific evidence continues to show that consuming milk and dairy foods, at all fat levels, is associated with neutral or reduced risk for multiple chronic disease states beyond bone health. A recent study that followed over 136,000 adults across 21 countries linked high consumption of dairy with a reduced risk of major cardiovascular disease and stroke: https://tinyurl.com/ya5wnsla.
  • Another study indicated that dairy consumption decreases body weight, body fat and waist circumference with calorie restriction in adults: https://tinyurl.com/ycycd2yo.
  • In a pooled analysis of 16 prospective cohorts from 12 countries, researchers found that higher circulating and tissue concentrations of fatty acids from dairy consumption are associated with lower risk of type 2 diabetes: https://tinyurl.com/yb2s4v2j.

Newer science, along with an aversion for carbs, has converted many Americans back to real butter and cheese. Some individuals on the keto diet have coffee with butter for breakfast. I tried it, and the taste was surprisingly pleasant! But I prefer my coffee black and butter on my whole grain toast.