Food fads and wrong advice

Farm and Dairy file photo

For many years now, the general health guidelines have been to stay away from whole milk and saturated fats. This has been a factor in the substantial decline of whole milk consumption in the U.S.

The idea behind this recommendation was that saturated fat raises “bad cholesterol” in the blood, which in turn raises the risk of heart disease.

The early evidence

This hypothesis, that soon became dogma, emerged from research done in the ’50s by a scientist named Ancel Keys. Dr. Keys examined the relationship between fat consumption across countries and the incidence of heart disease.

He found that in those countries with a high consumption of fats, such as the U.S., the incidence of heart disease was much higher than in those countries with low fat consumption. The association was even stronger between heart disease and consumption of saturated fats. Before long, the world of nutrition nearly universally adopted the recommendation of reducing saturated fats in food consumed. Milk fat became a villain.

A few problems

Nutritionists may have jumped the gun. There were some problems with the saturated fat hypothesis. First, the study done by Keys only showed an association between the consumption of saturated fats and heart diseases. There are a multitude of other ways that American and Japanese people differ in their food, lifestyle and genetics.

Second, Keys conveniently ignored data from some countries that were not supportive of his conclusion, such as France, where the consumption of fats is high due to a nearly insane consumption of cheese, yet the rate of heart disease is relatively low. Nevertheless, other (but not all) studies conducted in the 1960s and 1970s produced results that supported the bad side of saturated fats. Americans listened and they replaced butter with margarine.

Meanwhile, grocery stores were progressively filled with “low fat” food.

The 100 percent law

I teach a nutrition course at Ohio State. I warn my students that one’s diet must add up to 100 percent. If the consumption of saturated fat is reduced, then something else must go up. For Americans, this turned up to be the consumption of trans fats (e.g., margarine) and carbohydrates, especially of the processed kind.

Fifty years after the initial warnings regarding the consumption of saturated fats, research started to show that the modified American diet is not doing a thing about the risk of heart disease.

Worse yet, research is also showing that some of the milk fat components, the so-called conjugated linoleic acid, are highly protective against some forms of cancer. All of a sudden, eating butter is not so bad after all.

Chocolate milk enters the scene. The decline in milk consumption, especially among teenagers, is very concerning because milk is one of the best source of essential nutrients such as calcium. On an average, teenagers much prefer chocolate milk to white milk, especially the low-fat kind. Hence, some proposed to offer chocolate milk as an option in school lunches.

A large contingent of dietitians immediately voiced their strong disapproval based on the belief that the additional calories hence consumed would only compound the problem of child obesity. This would be true if the calories in the chocolate milk were just added to the kids’ diet, but that’s not how this work.

Losing weight with milk

In modern society, humans eat until they feel full. This most definitively applies to teenagers as they rummage through a refrigerator. It turns out that not all food components bring the same level of fullness.

Simple carbohydrates, such as sugar, have a relatively short satiety effect, especially compared to fats and some protein. A sweet snack fills you up, but not for long. You become hungry again an hour or two later. However, the fat and some of the protein in whole milk have an especially sustained satiety effect.

This partially explains why a diet relatively rich in dairy products is not associated with weight gain even in adults. If kids were to drink chocolate milk at lunch, they quite possibly would eat less of the other stuff and would not feel so darn hungry by midafternoon. Hopefully, it will not take 60 years this time to rectify this mistake.

Enjoying Christmas

Most American families enjoy a large tasty meal during the Christmas holiday. Hopefully, butter will be in the middle of the table with fresh, whole milk available for everyone to drink. This could reduce the pounds gained around the waist and bring a big smile to many faces.

Ice cream with apple pie wouldn’t hurt either.


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