Cardiovascular health Weight management

Diabetes, Cardiovascular Disease, Obesity and the High-Fat, Low-Fat Dairy Debate


Penny Brooks is a Registered Dietitian, who at the age of 12 was diagnosed with prediabetes, which she reversed within a year. Based on her personal experience and expertise in nutrition, she discusses the health benefits of the full fat dairy option in the context of obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.

Since the 1940’s the concept of a low-fat diet has been promoted to decrease one’s risk of or improve weight loss and cardiovascular disease. This belief has been reflected in American consumer beverage trends especially among adults 60 years of age and older. It was noted that full-fat dairy was being exchanged for lower fat options such as low-fat and skim milk over the past several years.

Obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease are interrelated conditions through consistently high insulin levels

With nutrition science as a dynamic and constantly evolving discipline, emerging evidence now is debunking fat as being the progenitor of obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease in the diet where the culprit was actually discovered to be sugar and refined carbohydrates. As a result, the theory of low-fat diets for prevention and treatment of these conditions has been the center of much criticism recently. Research conducted using high-fat low-carbohydrate diets demonstrate promise and positive outcomes to assist in preventing and managing these conditions more effectively that align with current and updated nutrition science.

Nutrition science brings new evidence to the high fat vs low fat dairy debate

credit: Google

Obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease are interrelated conditions mainly through their common denominator: high and consistently stimulated levels of insulin. So what foods affect insulin the most?

  • Fat (from animals or plants): a nutrient that helps to slow digestion (helps you feel full and satisfied), and does not promote a substantial rise in insulin or blood sugar.
  • Carbohydrates (starches, sugars, complex carbohydrates, and refined carbohydrates): a class of nutrients that promote an increase in blood sugar and stimulate a rise in insulin. Complex carbohydrates take a longer time to digest so it does not cause as fast of a rise in blood sugar and insulin as the others.

Additionally, high blood sugar levels can interact negatively with body proteins

Insulin is then related to obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease since as a hormone, when it is regularly present at high levels in the blood throughout the day, one of its many roles is that it promotes fat creation and storage. Weight gain and extra fat on your body naturally increases your risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease. And it makes it more difficult to manage these conditions.

Additionally, high blood sugar levels can interact negatively with body proteins (e.g. blood vessels) and fat (part of our cells and organs). High blood sugar levels compromise these proteins and their optimal function. Blood vessels makeup our entire cardiovascular system and individual organs. So when you take into consideration the potential compounded damage from both high blood sugar and high insulin levels, over time when organs such as the pancreas and blood vessels are sufficiently affected, this deterioration can increase our risk for or worsen current management of cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

Shifting to buying more full-fat dairy over lower fat options demonstrates to be a wise decision based on recent research

With the aforementioned information in mind let’s take a look at the composition of lower-fat dairy vs. full-fat dairy:

  • Skim/low-fat dairy: has a higher ratio of milk sugar and carbohydrate with negligible fat since the fat is removed (skimmed out) during processing. Since fat-soluble vitamins are in the fat, and these vitamins need fat in order to be properly absorbed and metabolized, these vitamins are also taken out with this process, so you miss the nutritional benefit of these lost vitamins.
  • Full-fat dairy: has a higher ratio of fat to carbohydrate and milk sugar, and contains fat-soluble vitamins.

So if you currently eat and enjoy dairy in your diet and you’re trying to prevent or better manage your diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and weight gain, shifting to buying more full-fat dairy over lower fat dairy options demonstrates to be a wise decision based on recent research.

That’s right: fat is back on the menu! And because fat is naturally flavorful, rich, and satisfying, you may find that your hunger and appetite may be better controlled throughout the day. As a consequence you may not feel as great the temptation or desire to snack on less healthful options. Eating healthy should not feel as though you are starving or depriving yourself of things you love. It’s about finding that balance of eating things that you actually enjoy that also happen to be great for you and help meet your health goals.

As a former prediabetic patient I’m all about win-win situations!

Feel free to try my favorite way of having yogurt using the new information you learned in this article for your next breakfast or snack:

-1 C of your favorite full-fat plain unsweetened yogurt that has “live active cultures” (also known as healthy bacteria) in the ingredient list. Unfortunately, not all yogurt has this gut-promoting bacteria so be sure to look out for it!

-2 Tbsp of walnuts

– ¼ C chopped pieces of 70% or greater cocoa dark chocolate (feel free to get adventurous and try a different type of dark chocolate until you find your favorite.)

– ½ C mixed berries: raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, and strawberries

-Have a sweet tooth? Feel free to sprinkle a weight loss, diabetes, and cardiovascular-friendly sweetener such as Truvia or stevia. Or even fragrant spices like cinnamon* and pumpkin spice.

2016 Best of yogurt publications

*Cassia cinnamon in particular has the added benefit in research of helping to reduce blood lipid levels, fasting blood sugar levels, hemoglobin A1c, and postprandial (after meal) insulin levels. To date in clinical studies 6g/day appears to be the highest level that has been tested in humans with safe and beneficial results. Results from these studies demonstrate promise and effectiveness for improving diabetes and cardiovascular outcome measures without reported side effects or negative interactions with medication. So to be on the safe side, don’t use Cassia cinnamon in excess of more than 6g/day since more than 6g/day has yet to be evaluated in research. And because at very high levels, it can be toxic to the liver. This is especially true in patients who currently have liver problems. As a reference 1 teaspoon of cinnamon is equal to about 3g so don’t worry: you should be fine with a couple teaspoons in your yogurt, so enjoy!


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Who is Penny Brooks ?

Penny is an emerging expert in researching international functional foods and nutraceuticals. She focuses on those that can be used to treat and prevent diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and obesity. In addition, she also investigates dietary components that promote these conditions. She is a licensed and Registered Dietitian in the State of Florida and a Master of Science Candidate in Nutrition and Dietetics (nutrition biochemistry) at Florida International University.

Having been diagnosed with prediabetes at the age of 12 years old and reversing it one year later, Penny is passionate about finding evidence-based and culturally-tailored dietary solutions in addressing the diabetes epidemic. Having varied clinical and community experience, she has been invited to speak in corporate and hospital sectors but also enjoys giving back through philanthropic community nutrition presentations to low-income and minority communities that are among those at highest risk and prevalence of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and obesity.

Join the fight and follow her at her Twitter here:

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