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Do Whole-fat or Low-fat Dairy Products Lower Diabetes Risk?

The risk for type 2 diabetes can be decreased by changing lifestyle, especially diet. Danish researchers Ibsen and colleagues investigate whether whole-fat or low-fat dairy products are equivalent in reducing type 2 diabetes risk.

Type 2 diabetes is an increasingly common condition in which individuals develop insulin resistance. The risk of developing type 2 diabetes is partly genetic but can be controlled by lifestyle modifications. One of the most important interventions to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes is through the diet. One of the recommendations for reducing type 2 diabetes risk is to consume low-fat dairy products. However, there is currently debate about whether low-fat dairy products significantly decrease risk compared to whole-fat dairy products.

In a recent paper in the British Journal of Nutrition, Danish researchers Ibsen and colleagues tested the relationship between low-fat dairy and high-fat dairy products and type 2 diabetes risk in the Danish Diet, Cancer, and Health cohort. This study included a total of 54,277 individuals who were asked about their food intake over the previous twelve months, and who were also asked to record their dietary intake over a period of seven days, several weeks apart. This questionnaire included questions about various kinds of dairy products including low-fat, whole-fat, and cheese products. This dietary information was then compared to the risk of developing type 2 diabetes over a period of 15 years on average.

High-Fat Dairy Consumption Led to Less Diabetes

The researchers found that individuals who developed type 2 diabetes tended to consume a greater proportion of low-fat dairy products compared to those individuals who did not. Specifically, these individuals who developed type 2 diabetes tended to consume more low-fat yogurt rather than whole-fat yogurt or milk. This was especially true for people who were not already at risk of type 2 diabetes at the beginning of the cohort study.

These results suggest that the consumption of whole-fat dairy products may be more beneficial in decreasing type 2 diabetes risk than consuming low-fat dairy products, particularly yogurt. This may be due to the high sugar content in low-fat dairy foods, particularly low-fat yogurts, which is used to compensate for the loss of flavor in low-fat foods. Future work must validate these relationships between low-fat dairy products and their high-fat dairy substitutes, and must control for other lifestyle factors such as exercise.

Written by C. I. Villamil

Reference: Ibsen et al. 2017. Substitutions between dairy product subgroups and risk of type 2 diabetes: the Danish Diet, Cancer and Health cohort. British Journal of Nutrition 118:989-997.

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