In the same period, sales of skim and low-fat milk and milk products have skyrocketed, thanks to the repeated warnings about the dangers of saturated fat. But now, Harvard researcher Dr.
David Ludwig and other health and nutrition experts are suggesting that recommendations to replace whole milk with low-fat versions are all wrong – and low-fat milk may, in fact, do far more harm than good.
Behind the Fat Debate
In the last few decades, research has focused on the role of dietary fat in the causes of cardiovascular disease, cancer and other chronic and often fatal health issues. To reduce the risk of heart disease as well as other serious ailments, people were advised to cut as much fat as possible from their diets, no matter the source.
The obsession with cutting fat led to a surge in demand for reduced and no fat versions of all kinds of foods, particularly dairy products. Whole milk was discarded in favor of skim or nonfat milk and not one but two varieties of low-fat milk: 1% and 2% of fat.
But even with the wholesale reduction of fat in products across the board, obesity rates and the incidents of diseases thought to be associated with fat continued to rise. That’s when a new research examined the role of dietary fat and found that it wasn’t fat itself that created health problems, but the kind of fat people ate. Some fats, they found, were actually good for health and should be a part of the diet.
That research shows that saturated fats, once demonized as the cause of many serious health problems, really don’t play a major role in cardiovascular disease – and, in fact, have health benefits such as boosting the absorption of vitamins. Low-fat products, they found, don’t really keep a person healthy – and may actually be harmful. According to Ludwig and his colleagues in a recent study published the Journal of the American Medial Association, that’s especially true of low fat milk. His recommendation was to stop drinking it immediately.
Low-Fat Milk Has more Sugar Than a Cookie
SO, what makes low-fat milk unhealthy? According to Ludwig and other nutrition experts, whole or full-fat milk has 7 grams of fat per cup, and most of that comes from saturated fat the kind previously thought to cause cardiovascular disease and other ailments. The saturated fat and other nutrients in whole milk have now been shown to play a role in reducing cancer risk, preventing osteoporosis, regulating blood sugar and more. Whole milk is a natural product and delivers more protein than carbohydrates.
Milk naturally contains a certain amount of sugar from its lactose. But when milk is made low fat by a process that separates the cream from whey and then recombines them, more sugar remains. A cup of low-fat milk can contain 12 grams of sugar or more – as much sugar as some kinds of cookies.
Cutting fat means leaving more carbohydrates behind. A child drinking the recommended 3 glasses of low-fat milk every day could end up consuming nearly 400 calories and 36 or more grams of sugar – not much better than the soda it was intended to replace.
More Chemicals Than a Pharmacy
As Ludwig points out, commercially produced low-fat milk – and milk products in general – contain far more than just milk. They’re often laced with hormones, antibiotics, and even painkillers, and they may contain added thickeners to compensate for the lost fat.
Since skim and low-fat milk typically have a watery texture and not much taste, they frequently have added flavors such as vanilla, strawberry or chocolate, too – which add even more sugar.
Ludwig and his colleagues hope that their research on the benefits of whole milk will persuade government health officials to rethink dietary guidelines to eliminate low fat milk and related products. Whole milk, they say, is real milk with real nutritional value – and low-fat milk is nothing but a pale imitation with no health benefits of its own.