There are few foods for which dietary recommendations and popular ideology are as far apart as they are for dairy. The internet is full of warnings on the dangers of any and all dairy consumption, but (low-fat) dairy products are key components of research-supported healthy dietary patterns. Emerging research suggests a more nuanced approach to the dairy food group may be necessary.
Beyond Saturated Fat: Dairy products are rich sources of beneficial dietary calcium and added vitamin D, but dairy—except fat-free and low-fat (1%)—is also a top contributor of saturated fat in the U.S. diet, and higher amounts of saturated fat relative to mono- and polyunsaturated fats is associated with increased risk for heart disease and stroke. But looking at saturated fat content alone may not tell the whole story of dairy and health. “Dairy contains a complex mix of different fatty acids, plus vitamins and other constituents,” says Dariush Mozaffarian, MD, DrPH, dean of the Friedman School and editor-in-chief of Tufts Health & Nutrition Letter. “It can also be fermented (like cheese) or have live probiotics (like yogurt). Each of these factors can create varying biological effects.”
One of the most helpful facts I ever learned about sugars and reading ingredients notices is that there are four grams of sugar in a teaspoon. So, when you read 20 grams of sugar, you can visualize five teaspoons full.
Among the dietary patterns specifically recommended by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) is the Mediterranean-style diet, which has been linked to reduced risks of heart disease and cognitive decline.
A healthy Mediterranean-style diet includes many of the same key ingredients found in MyPlate for Older Adults. The chief difference between a Mediterranean-style diet and other healthy-eating plans is the emphasis on unsaturated fats found in plant foods, especially monounsaturated fat in the form of olive oil. All healthy diets recommend limiting foods high in saturated fat, such as fatty meats and full-fat dairy, minimizing added sugar, and avoiding processed foods.
Eating More Like a Mediterranean
To move your diet in a Mediterranean-style direction, try these suggestions:
1 Eat plenty of vegetables.
Try a simple plate of sliced fresh tomatoes drizzled with olive oil, or eat salads, garlicky greens, fragrant soups and stews, or oven-roasted medleys. 2 Change the way you think about meat.
If you eat meat, have smaller amounts – small strips of sirloin in a vegetable saute, for example – or substitute skinless chicken breast or fish for red meat in a few meals each week. Continue reading →