Anyone who tries to keep track of what's considered healthful eating can perhaps be excused for feeling confused. Case in point: two recent studies that find high-fat dairy products and eggs to be helpful in reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes.
Yes, that's right -- high-fat dairy products and eggs.
In the first study, Swiss researchers writing in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition say it is specifically high-fat dairy products that help reduce the risk -- not the nonfat yogurt you've been trying to swallow the last few years.
"Those who ate the most high-fat dairy products had a 23% lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes than those who ate the least. High meat consumption was linked to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes regardless of the fat content of the meat," said Ulrika Ericson, who conducted the study.
Another Journal article reported on new research from the University of Eastern Finland. The study found that egg consumption was associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes as well as with lower blood glucose levels.
Men who ate approximately four eggs per week had a 37% lower risk of type 2 diabetes than men who only ate approximately one egg per week.
This association persisted even after possible confounding factors such as physical activity, body mass index, smoking and consumption of fruits and vegetables were taken into consideration. The consumption of more than four eggs did not bring any significant additional benefits.
Sources of fat
In both studies, instead of focusing on the total intake of saturated fat, the researchers looked at different sources of saturated fat.
The Swiss researchers noted that both meat and dairy products contain saturated fat, but certain saturated fatty acids are particularly common in dairy products. This difference could be one of the reasons why most studies show that those who eat meat are at higher risk of type 2 diabetes, whereas those who eat a lot of dairy products appear to have a lower risk.
The Finns, meanwhile, said that in addition to cholesterol, eggs contain many beneficial nutrients that can have an effect on, for example, glucose metabolism and low-grade inflammation, and thus lower the risk of type 2 diabetes.
The study also suggests that the overall health effects of foods are difficult to anticipate based on an individual nutrient such as cholesterol alone. Indeed, instead of focusing on individual nutrients, nutrition research has increasingly focused on the health effects of whole foods and diets over the past few years.
In the account of the Swiss study, Ericson concurred: "Our results suggest that we should not focus solely on fat, but rather consider what foods we eat. Many foodstuffs contain different components that are harmful or beneficial to health, and it is the overall balance that is important."