Should I Be Drinking Whole Milk?

After medical school, my friend Brian moved to Baltimore and became a pain management specialist. He wrote to ask my opinion about the newly re-constituted controversy about whole milk vs. skim milk. In Brian’s pain management practice, he has noticed that diabetic and pre-diabetic patients seem to struggle with more pain and arthritis than patients without these diagnoses.  

 
This week I’ll talk about why I believe that skim milk is no kind of improvement, and why whole milk may be far and away the better choice.
 
One reason that whole milk may reduce blood sugar spikes is that the presence of fat decreases the rate of absorption of the sugar molecules from the food you just ate. And fat gets absorbed by a different pathway altogether, which doesn’t even use insulin. And since insulin is the fat-storage hormone, so the thinking goes, the less you use, the less fat you store. 
 
There is other information that is more specific and compelling. Dairy fat contains a fatty acid called trans-palmitoleic acid. Research from Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School, and Harvard School of Public Health, published a few years ago in the Annals of Internal Medicine, suggests that trans-palmitoleic acid is protective against new-onset diabetes. The study, which ran from 1992 to 2006 in four U.S. communities, followed 3736 adults. Whole-fat dairy consumption was most strongly associated with higher trans-palmitoleate levels, which were associated with higher HDL cholesterol levels, lower triglyceride levels, lower C-reactive protein markers, lower insulin resistance, and a substantially reduced incidence of diabetes. In case you are wondering, these are really good results. More recent research has confirmed these earlier results.
 
As Dr. Brian observes in his pain management practice, diabetes appears to cause pain and inflammation that is even more far-reaching than what we typically associate with it. 
 
If you’d like to see how this applies to you, then you can try this yourself. You can run an experiment as follows: place a tape measure around the widest part of your waistline and mark down the number. Start eating full-fat dairy products. Stay far away from fat-free half-n-half, low-fat ice cream, plus any and all other dairy-derived products whose descriptions don’t make sense. Then recheck your waist measurement in a few weeks, and see what happens. If you discover that smaller amounts of full-fat dairy satisfy you just as much as larger portions of low-fat or nonfat dairy, then trust your gut and take a smaller portion. Always trust your gut.

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