Dairy Fat Might Help Reduce Risk of Type 2 Diabetes

More good news for dairy foods like milk, yogurt and cheese at all fat levels related to reduced risk of type 2 diabetes (T2D).

A new study published in PLOS Medicine looked at circulating levels for biomarkers (pentadecanoic [C15:0], heptadecanoic [C17:0] and trans palmitoleic [trans-16:1,n-7] fatty acids) indicative of dairy fat consumption, and found higher levels of these dairy fat biomarkers were associated with a lower risk of T2D. For instance, for the sum of these three fatty acids, it was estimated that people with higher levels had a 29 percent lower risk of T2D than adults with lower levels. Additionally, the significant association of lower risk of T2D was observed in both genders, although stronger in women than in men.

The study included data from 16 prospective cohorts from multiple countries (seven from the United States, seven from Europe, and one each from Australia and Taiwan), with a total of 63,682 participants who had a broad range of baseline ages and body mass index and did not have T2D at baseline. On average, participants were followed for nine years. The strength of the results from this study is that it included participants from multiple countries, giving it greater statistical power and the ability to apply its findings broadly, though different types of dairy foods may have different effects.

This multi-country effort is part of the Fatty Acids and Outcomes Research Consortium (FORCE), which was formed to combine all available studies to maximize statistical power and the ability to generalize findings, and also to allow standardized analytical approaches and methods, including key population subgroups, to minimize potential for publication bias.

Estimating circulating levels of dairy fatty acid biomarkers (i.e., C15:0, C17:0 and t16:1n-7) provides an objective determination of long-term consumption of dairy fat found in foods like whole milk and reduced-fat dairy foods. The results from this study are aligned with a series of previous studies that have shown that higher circulating levels of dairy fatty acids (C15:0, C17:0 and/or  t16:1n-7) are associated with lower risk of T2D. As the authors stated in the paper, “The findings provide the strongest evidence to date for relationships of these fatty acid biomarkers with T2D, informing the potential health effects and corresponding dietary recommendations for consumption of selected dairy products.

Overall, while additional research is needed, these findings provide further scientific evidence about potential benefits of fat found in dairy foods. The study supports the idea of not only low-fat and fat-free options, but also more flexibility for choice from reduced-fat and whole-fat dairy foods, while maintaining caloric recommendations, to help reduce risk of T2D.