There has been recent reversal in both diet trends, and nutrition studies, on the importance of fats and the benefits of a high fat diet. Foods like grass-fed butter, whole milk, avocado, and olive oil are a few of the many products nutritionists now say are key to a healthy diet. In addition to the potential of weight loss, fat is also essential for brain health, lung functionality, boosting your immune system, skin, and heart health. For a chef like me, who loves a good beurre blanc, this is great news. However, it is important to note this does not mean we should now have butter and cream with every meal.
These changes in trends come largely from two studies. One study, in the European Journal of Nutrition, found that participants who consumed whole fat dairy were no more likely to suffer from obesity, cardiovascular disease, or diabetes than those who only consumed low fat dairy. That said, I do not think any of these participants were consuming more than the recommended 3 servings of dairy a day. It is also important to note that these results do not conclude that devouring an entire pint of ice cream after a stressful day (which I have been known to do) is okay.
The other study, which was much larger, showed that participants who were consuming whole fat dairy actually had lower obesity rates than those who preferred low fat dairy. This study, in The Scandanavian Journal of Primary Healthcare, shows that what was most important is the nutrient density and a feeling of fullness from the dairy. It is possible that the fatty acids of the whole fat dairy may aid in preventing fat storage, but more research is needed.
What I believe matters most is to enjoy what you are eating in moderation. Whole fat, or low fat, should be limited to three servings a day. That is 3 cups of milk, 4.5 oz. of cheese, or 1.5 cups yogurt. Eat what you prefer, but if you have not tried a whole fat dairy product in a while, experiment for yourself. It may fill you up a little faster and perhaps even help your waistline.
-Chef Alex Pasco