Dairy is a heated topic in the nutrition world with some nutritionists singing its praises and others firmly echewing the stuff. The latest research makes a case for the former: A recent study published in the journal Circulation reports that consuming full fat dairy products can reduce your risk of diabetes. “Fat tastes good, feels good in our mouths—and our bellies—and since it is digested slowly, it gives us a feeling of satisfaction and satiety,” says Katherine Zeratsky, R.D.N., a nutritionist at the Mayo Clinic.
For the study, researchers look at the circulating fatty acid biomarkers of dairy fat in 3,333 people to see how those levels correlated to their risk of getting diabetes. 277 particpants developed the disease around 15 years after the intitial testing. More interestingly, those with the highest concentration of dairy fatty acids in their blood had a much lower risk.
That’s not to say that low-fat or non-fat dairy necessarily raises your risk—it just won’t help you as much when it comes to diabetes-prevention since the fat is what helps to slow digestion and moderate the natural rise and fall of blood glucose, explains Zeratsky, noting that you could get a similar affect with skim milk within a meal with (healthy) fats like nuts.
So, don’t stress too much over putting a dash of milk in your coffee or eating a protein-packed Greek yogurt for your afternoon snack. Better yet, do it post-workout. “Dairy is a great recovery beverage/food—The combination of lactose and type of protein (leucine) help rebuild muscles, plus it has electrolytes, and other important vitamin/minerals,” says Zeratsky.
The bottom line: A healthy diet, exercise, and maintaining a healthy weight are your best protection against developing type 2 diabetes, per Zeratsky. So long as you consume full-fat dairy in moderation, it can be a part of that healthy diet. Weight training can also lower your risk of diabetes as can these three easy tricks.
The one time you should avoid dairy—both fat-free and full-fat? “I'd suggest limiting fat just prior to a workout, for comfort reasons,” says Zeratsky.