Thursday, September 6, 2012

Milk…and Its Fat…Does a Body Good

Last week’s blog on school milk generated numerous emails and LinkedIn comments, in particular from dietitians concerned that growing children are not getting their daily dose of essential fatty acids when fat-free milk, vs. low-fat or whole milk, is served. A connection in Sweden wrote, “We turn more and more to 3%-fat milk in schools. Flavored milk has never been served and no milk with sugar. If the kids get no fat they crave more carbs and eat more sugar. The modern view is that it is not the fat that makes kids fat; it is the sugar.”

A local connection wrote, “Research going back 30 to 40 years shows that the fat in milk is required to be able to absorb calcium…From the 1950s to the 1980s we believed in the U.S. that fat was required for weight loss. All weight-loss products had unsaturated fatty acids in them, such as safflower or sunflower oil or lecithin. People lost a lot more weight with these products than the new low-fat or no-fat products/diets…The milk given to children should have the same fat content as breast milk…When I was in grade school we were given a half-pint of milk and an apple almost every day. It was whole milk, we did not have 2% and very few people drank skim milk. The fattest child in my class would be considered normal size by today’s standards.”

Then an article by Jennifer Sygo, a registered dietitian at Cleveland Clinic Canada in Toronto, appeared in Monday’s National Post posing the question: What if milk fat isn’t so bad for you after all?

She explains that a growing body of research is challenging the notion that the fat in dairy products does a body bad, especially when it comes to our hearts. There are a number of theories as to why there’s this change of heart, so to say.

Though the hypotheses require more research, they are definitely intriguing and many make common sense. One belief is that the benefits relate to the calcium content of dairy products, while others have noted that the fat in milk products causes levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL, or “good”) cholesterol in the bloodstream to rise. There are others. 

Regardless, this new way of looking at dairy products follows the growing trend toward eating foods in their whole, unprocessed form, not to mention our growing appreciation that whole food is greater, and more complex, than the sum of its parts, according to Sygo.
You can read her article in its entirety HERE.

Finally, timing is everything. On Wednesday, I received a press release from Florida Dairy Farmers stating: A lot of Floridians like their milk whole.

Grocery store sales in the sunshine state show that 30.6% of the milk sold through April 15 of this year was whole milk, while nearly the same amount--29.5%--was 2%. More than 18% of the milk sold was 1% and nearly 21% was fat-free, according to data from SymphonyIRI.

The press release explains that according to a new study published in the European Journal of Nutrition, there appears to be no relationship between full-fat dairy products and weight gain when consumed as part of a healthy diet. Further, researchers also found nothing to link higher fat products with poorer metabolic health or increased risk of diabetes.

According to Florida Dairy Farmers Registered Dietitian Alyssa Greenstein, “Penny for penny, dairy delivers one of the best nutritional values of any food group. And for only about 25 cents per 8-ounce glass, milk remains one of the best ways to ensure your family’s diet is nutritious and balanced during these hard economic times.”

Yet, overall, milk sales continue to decline. There are several reasons why declining milk sales is concerning, given that a glass of milk may be the ultimate weapon in the fight against osteoporosis, according to new research released in Australia. The study, conducted by the University of South Australia, found that increasing dairy intake to the daily recommended serving could have saved Australia’s national health-care system $112 million annually, while sparing 40,000 men and women from the degenerative bone disease.

The good news is that regardless of preference for fat levels in milk, dairy lovers can continue to enjoy their favorites as part of a well-balanced diet. Milk marketers need to continue to communicate that milk, and the essential fatty acids that it naturally contains, does a body great.

Did I mention that whole milk is delicious? All this communication convinced me to buy a quart the other day. When my stomach started rumbling in the middle of the afternoon, I poured myself a cold glass. Not only did it refresh, it satisfied. And it was super delicious. (When I compared the Nutrition Facts to other common snacks, the glass of whole milk was lower in fat and contained more vitamins, minerals and protein…go figure!)

Maybe if we kept the fat in school milk, and served the white stuff nice and cold, there would be no need to flavor and sweeten it. It’s a back to basics approach.

I welcome your comments.

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