Full Fat and Diabetes -- More Cream, Please?

Sandra A. Fryhofer, MD


June 16, 2011

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Hello. I'm Dr. Sandra Fryhofer. Welcome to Medicine Matters.

The topic is "can full-fat dairy products reduce diabetes risk?" from a new study published in the Annals of the Internal Medicine.[1] Here's why it matters.

Low fat or full fat -- which to choose? Grocery shelves are filled with low-fat dairy products. We eat them to be healthier even if they don't taste as good as their high-fat counterparts. A study from the Harvard School of Public Health suggests that in the case of dairy products, full fat may have benefits and reduce your risk for diabetes. However, it's not really the fat but the level of trans-palmitoleic acid in the bloodstream that seems to provide this protective benefit.

This is not a clinical trial but a prospective cohort study that is part of the Cardiovascular Health Study[2] and included more than 3700 adults age 65 and older. These men and women were asked about their food intake. Note that participants were only questioned once. Eating habits can change. People who said they ate more full-fat dairy products had higher levels of trans-palmitoleic acid in their bloodstream 3 years later. Having higher blood levels of this acid seems to be protective. In fact, adults with higher levels of trans-palmitoleic acid enjoy other benefits:

  • Less body fat;

  • Higher HDL [high-density lipoprotein] cholesterol;

  • Lower C-reactive protein; and

  • Lower triglyceride levels.

Adults with the highest level of trans-palmitoleic acid had a 60% lower incidence of diabetes.

However, their full-fat dairy connection could just be coincidence, and more research is needed. Remember that full fat means [that it] has more calories, and weight gain also increases risk for diabetes. For now, I'm sticking to low-fat dairy. That is, most of the time. For Medicine Matters, I'm Dr. Sandra Fryhofer.


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