Butter and Cheese Help Regulate Blood Sugar

Written by Dr. Joseph Mercola

butter and cheese

Story at-a-glance -

  • New research supports studies conducted over recent years that completely reverse the notion that only no-fat or low-fat dairy products are healthy and other varieties should be strictly limited to protect your health
  • Dietary guidelines set by several governmental agencies recommend limiting consumption to a teaspoon of butter and a half-ounce of cheese daily, but there’s now evidence that eating dairy is linked with a lower incidence of Type 2 diabetes
  • Consumption of dairy products such as yogurt and cheese is linked with a lower incidence of Type 2 diabetes
  • Grass fed cheese, milk, yogurt and butter are full of omega-3 fatty acids and other essential nutrients that fight conditions such as high blood sugar; dairy products should ideally be raw, grass fed and organic to reap the nutritional benefits

Regulating blood sugar has become a high priority for an increasing number of people, not just in the U.S., but worldwide. In fact, medical experts say diabetes affects more than 30 million people in the U.S.,1 and in the U.K., where Type 2 diabetes alone impacts more than 3.3 million, such statistics constitute epidemic proportions, according to Daily Star.2

However, there’s hope for people with high blood sugar, but it requires simple lifestyle tweaking to reduce individual risk. Most predominant in the methods you can adopt to reduce your risk of developing diabetes or multiplying the health risks associated with this condition is changing your eating habits.

You can even alleviate the symptoms and regulate the high blood sugar levels linked to diabetes, and it’s often just as much about the foods you eat as the foods you stay away from.

Researchers from the University of Cambridge School of Clinical Medicine revealed that a few choice foods, which some “experts” have previously warned against, can be eaten or reintroduced into your diet to lower your Type 2 diabetes risk. This includes butter, yogurt and cheese. Lead author Fumiaki Imamura, from the Medical Research Council (MRC) Epidemiology Unit at Cambridge, asserts:

“Our results provide the most comprehensive global evidence to date about dairy fat biomarkers and their relationship with lower risk of Type 2 diabetes. We’re aware that our biomarker work has limitations and requires further research on underlying mechanisms, but at the very least, the available evidence about dairy fat does not indicate any increased risk for the development of Type 2 diabetes.”3

Senior study author Dariush Mozaffarian, dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, notes three interesting aspects of what constitutes “dairy fat;” first, that dairy foods are recommended as part of a healthy diet, both in the U.S. and internationally. More specifically, consumption of dairy products such as yogurt and cheese is linked with a lower incidence of Type 2 diabetes.

However, there’s been confusion, lost context and misinformation in regard to consumption of saturated fat, including that found in dairy products, not only in the general public but by the medical community, which is most likely why Mozaffarian was prompted to add, “Our findings, measuring biomarkers of fatty acids consumed in dairy fat, suggest a need to reexamine the potential metabolic benefits of dairy fat or foods rich in dairy fat, such as cheese.”4

Caveats on Butter, Yogurt and Cheese: Choose Wisely

Daily Mail explains that the crux of the new research means eating cheese may help lower your Type 2 diabetes risk, even while acknowledging that millions of consumers are following misguided dietary guidelines, concentrated on the errant associations linking dairy products with calories and “bad fat.” 

Current (and faulty) guidelines maintain that saturated fats found in dairy foods should be limited; the recommendation is no more than three servings per day, and it should be either fat-free or low-fat to avoid raising your LDL cholesterol and, subsequently (and again misguidedly), a heightened heart disease risk.

If followed, the recommended dairy consumption would equal 1 teaspoon of butter, one 15-gram (approximately a half-ounce) of cheese, 1 cup of yogurt or an 8-ounce glass of milk. But now, there’s a major shift:

“Indeed, research is mounting that saturated fat is better for you than processed carbohydrates like sugar and white bread, which have been linked to diabetes, obesity and heart disease many times over … Other studies have also shown that full-fat products like dairy can be useful in weight maintenance and other health factors.”5

Mozzafarian notes that different foods are made up of different nutrients, so that while we may be eating cheese, butter, yogurt, milk and meat, it’s not altogether correct to say we’re consuming calcium, fat and protein. In fact, there’s a huge difference between the fat in a pat of butter and what’s present in a pastrami sandwich. The reason, he explains, is that:

“Processed meats may have different effects on stroke and heart disease, not because of the saturated fat, but because of sodium and the preservatives. In the end, just making decisions about a food based on one thing like saturated fat is not useful.”6

However, it’s not a good idea to choose just any old dairy product from the dairy section of your local supermarket.

Conventionally produced dairy products are alarmingly out of balance in regard to omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which creates a greater risk for chronic disease, not to mention the problems that stem from CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations), such as ingesting the antibiotics the cows have been given, as well as hormones and genetically engineered (GE) organisms.

Instead, choose raw, organic and grass fed (rather than grain-fed) options when you’re looking for milk, cheese, butter and yogurt. Look for real cheese made from unpasteurized milk for optimal flavor and nutritional benefits, as what often passes for real is anything but.

Whole, grass fed and unsweetened yogurt has been found to fight inflammation, it’s been linked to a lower risk of heart disease, and it’s great for gut health, and real butter, far from the killer it’s been made out to be, contains short-chain fatty acids including butyrate, which helps fight several of the leading causes of disease, including diabetes.

The Call for a ‘Reexamination of Dairy Fat’ by Nutritional Scientists

While there are advantages to taking another look at the way fatty acids in dairy foods are viewed, the researchers also note that you can’t differentiate between individual foods, such as cheese, yogurt and butter, in regard to the biomarkers measuring them.

According to the Cambridge news release, “Biomarkers are telltale molecules in the body that can be measured accurately and consistently, and act as indictors of dietary consumption.”

As Mozaffarian observes, biomarkers of dairy fat consumption can be, and have been, influenced by factors that may or may not have anything to do with dairy intake. Examples include limited data from nonwhite populations, as well as populations where not only the dairy products but the way they’re prepared might be different.7

The study, published in PLOS Medicine,8 was part of the Fatty Acids and Outcomes Research Consortium (FORCE),9 which describes its aim as “Understanding how fatty acid biomarkers relate to the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, obesity, cancers, chronic kidney disease, and other conditions.”

The scientists used data compiled from 16 studies to compare how nearly 64,000 adults were affected over 20 years. Their review found that the participants who didn’t consume dairy products were more likely to develop the condition and, in fact, 15,100 of them, free of diabetes from the outset, went on to develop Type 2 diabetes during the 20-year follow-up.

Conversely, “those with higher concentrations of dairy-fat biomarkers had less chance of contracting the condition.”10 Further:

“When all the results of the 16 studies were pooled the researchers found that higher concentrations of dairy-fat biomarkers were associated with lower risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. This lower risk was independent of other major risk factors for Type 2 diabetes including age, sex, race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, physical activity and obesity.

For example, if people among the top fifth of the concentrations of dairy-fat markers were compared with people among the bottom fifth of the concentrations, the top-fifth people had an approximately 30 percent lower risk of Type 2 diabetes.”11

‘The Low-Fat Trend Was Misguided’

More and more people within the medical community are reading the tea leaves, so to speak, in regard to the erstwhile recommendation to opt for low-fat and no-fat dairy options. In early 2016, Time magazine examined the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, presented by the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.12

At the time, while the government agencies that produced the guidelines said they were “grounded in the most current scientific evidence,” several experts in the field of nutrition alluded to the use of outdated and contradictory research.

Walter Willett, chair of the department of nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health, asserted that the way the guidelines were compiled was fraught with manipulation of data, lobbyists and undue leverage by food manufacturers, producers and special interest groups.

Six months later, Time referred to a “growing body of research showing that the low-fat-diet trend was misguided.” But sadly, a Gallup Poll reported in 2014 that roughly two times the number of people were still closely monitoring their fat intake as opposed to the number of those watching their carb consumption.13 Time added:

“The new study analyzed nine papers that included more than 600,000 people and concluded that consuming butter is not linked to a higher risk for heart disease and might be slightly protective against Type 2 diabetes. This goes against the longstanding advice to avoid butter because it contains saturated fat.”14

In a nutshell, word is finally spreading through the circles of nutritional scientists that avoiding dietary fat, including saturated fat, was doing more harm than good for consumers and patients trying to be conscientious about their eating habits. Interestingly, the featured study wasn’t Mozaffarian’s first foray into the topic. Another, separate study published in Circulation was covered in Time:

“Mozaffarian and his colleagues analyzed the blood of 3,333 adults enrolled in the Nurses’ Health Study of Health Professionals Follow-up Study taken over about 15 years. They found that people who had higher levels of three different byproducts of full-fat dairy had, on average, a 46 percent lower risk of getting diabetes during the study period than those with lower levels …

Since full-fat dairy products contain more calories, many experts assumed avoiding it would lower diabetes risk. But studies have found that when people reduce how much fat they eat, they tend to replace it with sugar or carbohydrates, both of which can have worse effects on insulin and diabetes risk.”15

Symptoms of Type 2 Diabetes You Shouldn’t Ignore

Diabetes is a disease rooted in insulin resistance and perhaps more importantly, a malfunction of leptin signaling, caused by chronically elevated insulin and leptin levels.

Type 1 is the type many sufferers are born with, while Type 2 can come on at any time. With Type 2, the problem stems either from the pancreas’ failure to produce enough insulin or your cells fail to react to the insulin produced — insulin being a hormone responsible for regulating the amount of glucose in your blood.

There are a number of symptoms that people frequently experience with Type 2 diabetes, many of which are your body’s way of showing you there’s a problem. When glucose starts building in your blood instead of heading to your cells, it results in physical symptoms.

Many people head to their doctor and subsequently start on what is typically an unending cycle of medically-supervised “management” of the disease. Sadly, Type 2 diabetes is one of the main reasons why life expectancy in the U.S. has dropped in just the last few years for younger and younger people, and those with the condition often have other disorders as well, such as obesity, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure and even cancer.16

Perhaps even more disturbing are studies that show that half the adults in the U.S. are either diabetic or prediabetic.17 An alarmingly low number of doctors address how possible it is and how crucial it is for people with diabetes to offset their disease and even prevent it by adopting simple strategies involving their food intake.

What you eat can literally make or break your health. If you find a gap in your knowledge base regarding what you should and should not eat, you could start with brushing up on how to restore insulin and leptin sensitivity, both of which are directly diet- and exercise-related.

It’s also helpful to know that the same metabolic defect responsible for mitochondria dysfunction, metabolic syndrome and most cancers is also responsible for Type 2 diabetes and obesity.

Addressing your diet is Job No. 1 in turning diabetes around, but so are strategies in getting more movement into your lifestyle, lowering your carb and sugar intake, increasing your fiber and incorporating healthy fats like organic, grass fed dairy products.

How do you know if you have a blood sugar problem? Daily Star18 lists a number of the most common symptoms to watch for, although you can also get a blood test.

Excessive thirst

Constant hunger

Weight loss

Frequent urination

Mood swings

Wounds that are slow to heal

Itchy, dry skin

Blurred vision

Fatigue

Foot numbness or pain

UTIs and yeast infections

Insomnia

If you haven’t already been diagnosed, or if your blood sugar is higher than normal but not high enough to be diagnosed with diabetes, it’s never too early (or too late) to combat it before you begin experiencing damage to your heart, blood vessels, kidneys, eyes, gums, teeth and neurological system.

The research makes it clear that if you’ve bought into the notion that eating full-fat dairy is bad for you, be assured that the latest research is turning around an industry that’s been crying “wolf” for far too long. Now is the time to increase the amount of healthy, grass fed butter, cheese and other full-fat dairy foods in your diet every day, and fight diabetes from the inside out.