You are likely aware of the growing debate playing out in the media among scientists and health experts about the health consequences of fat, particularly saturated fats. Although current guidelines recommend that consumption of saturated fat from any source be limited to no more than 10 percent of calories, emerging research is beginning to show that not all types of saturated fats have the same effect on health. While it’s too early to make sweeping nutrition recommendations, it’s critical that we, as health and wellness experts, are aware of the advances.
One recent example is a large European study (free full text available) which found that the type of fatty acids circulating in the blood differ when it comes to the development of type 2 diabetes (T2D).
- Odd-chain saturated fatty acids (SFAs), such as pentadecanoic (C15:0) and heptadecanoic (C17:0) – markers of dairy fat consumption — were associated with a decreased risk of developing T2D.
As lead scientist, Dr. Nita Forouhi, at the University of Cambridge explains, “These odd-chain saturated fatty acids are well-established markers of eating dairy fats, which is consistent with several recent studies, including our own, that have indicated a protective effect against type 2 diabetes from eating yogurt and other dairy products.”
- Circulating longer-chain SFAs, such as arachidic (C20:0), behenic (C22:0), tricosanoic (C23:0) and lignoceric (C24:0), were also associated with reduced risk of T2D, but their determinants and health effects are largely unknown, and deserve further study according to an accompanying editorial.
- In contrast, circulating even-chain SFAs, such as myristic (C14:0), palmitic (C6:0), and stearic (C18:0), were associated with a higher risk of T2D. The researchers say these fatty acids in the blood likely originated from the body’s metabolism of carbohydrates and alcohol.
The Forouhi et al. study, the largest of its kind in the world, adds to a growing body of scientific evidence indicating that blood levels of dairy fatty acids – markers of full fat dairy intake — are associated with lower risk of T2D (Kratz et al. 2014; Hodge et al. 2007; Krachler et al. 2008; Mozaffarian et al. 2010;Mozzafarian et al. 2013).
Practically speaking, the rising incidence of type 2 diabetes is a primary concern for the health and wellness of Americans. Although there is still a great deal to be discovered about the health effects of different SFAs and the origin of SFAs found in the blood (dietary or endogenous), results of this study indicate that SFAs present in full-fat dairy foods may have beneficial effects for human health not only for T2D, but also the development of cardiovascular disease and more specifically the effect of milk consumption on cardiovascular health. Even so, when educating clients, consumption of full-fat foods needs to be balanced with non-fat and lower-fat foods within an overall balanced eating plan to meet individual caloric and health goals.