A shake-up in advice on what we should eat is set to follow as research reveals more about how nutrition fuels our health.
The long-standing emphasis on the effects of individual nutrients is being cast aside in favour of a focus on the food ‘matrix’ – whole foods and their influence on obesity and chronic diseases.
And the outcome of this shift in expert thinking? It’s good news for yogurt-lovers!
It’s not just about calories
The challenge to conventional thinking follows growing evidence that calories and fat are only part of the picture when it comes to fighting the flab – let alone protecting us from chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes.
Foods are a mix of components and have complex structures, and their effects on weight gain and health are not straightforward. It is time to rethink dietary guidance – particularly relating to dairy foods, the author says in a report of the 6th Global Summit on the Health Effects of Yogurt.
‘…advances in nutrition science have demonstrated that foods represent complex matrices of nutrients, minerals, bioactives, food structures, and other factors (e.g., phospholipids, prebiotics, probiotics) with correspondingly complex effects on health and disease.’ – Mozaffarian, 2019.
Full-fat dairy foods aren’t associated with weight gain
A long-term study has looked at eating habits and weight gain in over 120,000 healthy, non-obese people in the USA. They were assessed every 4 years for up to 24 years.
The participants put on an average 1.5 kg (3.35 lb) in each 4-year period. Foods strongly linked to weight gain were generally rich in carbohydrate and included potatoes, sugary drinks, sweets and refined grains. Cheese, low-fat milk and whole milk weren’t associated with weight gain. Eating more vegetables, whole grains, fruits, nuts or yogurt was associated with less weight gain.
These findings can’t be explained by fat and calorie content alone, says the author. He suggests that different foods may have varying effects on factors linked to weight gain. Some foods might make you feel fuller than others, for example. Foods may also vary in how they affect blood glucose levels, fat production by the liver, the mix of microbes living in our gut (the microbiome), and our body’s metabolic rate.
‘The present evidence suggests that whole-fat dairy foods do not cause weight gain, that overall dairy consumption increases lean body mass and reduces body fat, that yogurt consumption and probiotics reduce weight gain, that fermented dairy consumption including cheese is linked to lower CVD risk, and that yogurt, cheese, and even dairy fat may protect against type 2 diabetes.’ – Mozaffarian, 2019.
Yogurt and probiotics are associated with health benefits
Studies have shown that probiotics (‘good’ bacteria), either in foods such as yogurt or as supplements, are associated with reduced weight gain, less body fat and improved blood glucose control.
A change of heart on full-fat dairy
Dietary guidelines have generally encouraged us to cut down on saturated fats, found in full-fat dairy foods and meat, as these were thought to be linked to raised blood cholesterol and an increased risk of heart disease and stroke.
But saturated fats found in dairy foods are different from those found in meat, and studies have shown that neither full-fat nor low-fat dairy foods are associated with an increased risk of heart disease or stroke. Even better, your chances of developing these cardiovascular diseases are actually reduced if you’re someone who enjoys fermented dairy foods such as cheese, yogurt, and fermented milk.
Fermented dairy foods are associated with a reduced risk of diabetes
Consuming full-fat dairy products has been associated with a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes. But fat content is not the only thing to consider – the type of dairy food also seems to be important. Studies have shown that people who eat more fermented dairy products, such as yogurt and cheese, have a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
The health benefits of dairy foods appear to depend on various complex characteristics, such as probiotics, fermentation and processing, says the author. Until we have evidence to the contrary, the choice between low-fat and full-fat dairy should be left to personal preference.
‘Based on the current science, dairy consumption is part of a healthy diet, and intakes of probiotic-containing yogurt and fermented dairy products such as cheese should be especially encouraged.’ – Mozaffarian, 2019.