High-Fat Dairy May Lower Diabetes Risk

By Nicky Broyd
WebMD Health News

Reviewed by Keith Barnard, MD

Sept. 16, 2014 -- New Swedish research shows that eating and drinking high-fat dairy products is linked to a lower risk of getting type 2 diabetes. This finding appears to contradict current guidance, which recommends people with diabetes choose low-fat dairy products whenever possible.

The new research was presented at this year's annual meeting of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes (EASD). It shows that people who had eight or more portions of high-fat dairy products per day had a 23% lower risk of getting type 2 diabetes than those who had one or fewer portions per day.

The study included 26,930 people (60% women) ages 45-74. During 14 years of follow-up, 2,860 type 2 diabetes cases were spotted.

It's thought that dietary fats could have a crucial role in someone developing type 2 diabetes.

Previous studies have indicated that replacing high levels of saturated fat with "good" unsaturated fats might be the best way to help prevent type 2 diabetes. Some experts suggest plant sources of fat (e.g. spreads made with sunflower or olive oil) as a better choice than animal sources of fat (e.g. butter).

Other studies say that eating and drinking lots of dairy products may be protective.

The researchers found that having 1 ounce or more of cream per day was tied to a 15% drop in type 2 risk, compared to having only 0.01 ounce or less per day.

High-fat fermented milk fat, found in yogurts and milk with a regular fat content of around 3%, also cut the risk of getting diabetes by 20%, when comparing people who drank 6 ounces of it per day with those who didn't drink any.

Eating a lot of meat and meat products was linked with greater risk, though.

In a press release, researcher Ulrika Ericson of Lund University Diabetes Center in Sweden says: "Our findings suggest that in contrast to animal fats in general, fats specific to dairy products may have a role in prevention of type 2 diabetes."

In a statement, Dr. Richard Elliot, Diabetes UK research communications manager, says: "This study adds to research which suggests that different sources of fat in the diet affect the risk of type 2 diabetes in different ways. However, this does not mean that adding high-fat dairy products to your diet will actively help to protect against type 2 diabetes, and we would not recommend this.

"Consumption of dairy products can form part of a healthy diet, but it's important to be aware of the amount you consume, as they can be high in calories, which can contribute to becoming overweight, and therefore increase your risk of type 2 diabetes. More research will be needed before we change our advice that the best way to reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes is by maintaining a healthy weight through increased physical activity and a balanced diet that is low in salt, saturated fat, and sugar, and rich in fruit and vegetables."

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SOURCES: Press release, EASD. Diabetes U.K. Richard Elliot, Research Communications Manager, Diabetes UK.

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