Dairy Foods and Saturated Fat

June 9, 2015 in Health, Nutrition by Joyce Bunderson

June is national dairy month, so I thought that I’d address dairy foods and saturated fats. If there is any one category of food that’s a mixed bag, it’s dairy. Dairy products have been eaten for millennia, but the issue of saturated fat may be scaring people away from including dairy products.

Saturated Fat

One of the reasons that dairy has gotten a black eye is the fact that a single 8-ounce glass of whole milk has 1.5 grams of saturated fat. The American Heart Association’s recommendation for saturated fat per day is to limit it to less than 7% of total daily calories for healthy people over the age of 2. So if you need about 2,000 calories a day, it would be less that 140 calories or 16 grams from saturated fat; if you only need 1,500 it’s 105 calories and 12 grams of saturated fat. Therefore, if we turn back to our glass of milk example, 1.5 grams of saturated fat doesn’t seem like a bad deal. If you had 2 glasses of whole milk a day that would only be three grams of sat fat. It would contribute one-fourth to almost one-fifth. It doesn’t seem like too much unless you eat other foods with saturated fats. Therein lies the catch. Let me illustrate:

Let’s say that you choose a hamburger patty or hamburger in a casserole for lunch or dinner; three ounces (fairly conservative amount) of ground beef has 9.6 grams of sat fat. If you also have a slice of cheddar cheese on your burger patty or one ounce in the casserole that adds another 6 grams of sat fat. Please note that cheese has about double the saturated fat, ounce per ounce as ground beef. So the dairy food, cheese, can really pack in the saturated fat, taking you, with the 3 grams from milk, 2.6 gm above the 16 grams for a 2000-calorie day. This little example makes it painfully obvious, that having a small amount of ground beef and cheese leaves little to no room for more saturated fat at two other meals and a snack. And those two glasses of milk now loom large.

Now let’s think about pizza for a moment. If you have an ounce of pepperoni (4.2 grams of sat fat) or an ounce of sausage (7 grams of sat fat) and two ounces of cheese (12 grams of sat fat); you’ve just had more than the day’s 16 gram recommendation, if you are one who is able to eat 2000 calories a day. Unfortunately, many of us can’t eat 2000 calories a day without gaining weight.

If you were thinking that having a nice piece of beefsteak instead of the pizza, you’d think you’d be heading in a better direction, and you’d be right; but probably not by much. Don’t get the party hats out yet, because a four-ounce serving of grilled beefsteak has 10.8 (almost 11) grams of saturated fat. Were you thinking of having butter or sour cream (two dairy products) on a potato with you steak? And a little butter on a roll or vegetables, it’s 2.3 grams of sat fat in each teaspoon (not tablespoon) of butter. You can save quite a bit of saturated fat by choosing sour cream (0.5 grams sat fat) over butter (teaspoon for teaspoon) – but who puts a couple of teaspoons of sour cream on a potato?

If you decide to have a McDonald’s single patty cheeseburger it has 5 grams of saturated fat. McDonald’s Bacon Clubhouse burger has 15 grams of saturated fat – ouch!; a Quarter Pounder with cheese 12 grams; Quarter Pounder with bacon and cheese 13; and Double Quarter pounder with cheese 19 grams. All of their sirloin burgers varieties have between 16 –18 grams for a sandwich. Don’t forget that breakfast counts too; a steak, egg and cheese bagel has 13, unless you decide to have it on a biscuit, which pops it up to 16 grams; the Big Breakfast (large size biscuit) takes the prize at 20 grams of sat fat (It has to share the prize if you decide on a large Frappe Chocolate Chip for the same 20 grams of sat fat. One small Vanilla McCafe Shake has 10 grams of saturated fat. A large Frappe Caramel has 17 grams of saturated fat. After seeing these numbers, you may be wondering why we’re worrying about 1.5 grams of saturated fat in a cup of milk. If you don’t want to waste time spreading out the intake of saturated fat throughout the day, fast food can do the quick and easy trick – not just at McDonald’s.

Before you give up milk and cheese completely, know that dairy products have been shown to be a healthy addition to the diet. (See The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2014 May; 99:984-91. Soerensen KV et al.; Nutrition Research. 2014 Dec;34(12):1036-44 Crichton GE et al.; Diabetologia. 2014 May; 57(5):909-17 O’Connor LM et al.; Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism. 2014 Dec;39(12):1323-31 DaSilva MS et al.; and the International Journal of Preventive Medicine. 2014 Nov; 5(11):1405-11 Mehrabani S et al.

Some of the research has shown that the calcium in dairy is the key to the healthy benefits. If that is the case, why not just enjoy low fat or nonfat dairy? All the saturated fat is gone in nonfat Greek yogurt, nonfat milk, and other nonfat dairy items. You still get all the protein, but the fat is not included. To me that’s a bargain; and that’s my choice. I think dairy foods have lots to offer; I just have decided to exclude the fat and still reap the benefits.