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Is Milk Good For You? Recent Studies Add to Dairy Debate

As is usual for this time of year, the most predominant thing on many people’s minds is weight loss.

We are bombarded with exercise and weight loss information in the post-holiday season, as the fitness and diet industry responds to what is one of the top New Year resolutions for many people. So given the popularity of this topic, weight loss pills, weight loss programs, and weight loss studies abound. They are big attention grabbers both in the industry and in the media.

Another big attention grabber recently, in case you haven't noticed, have been cows. From those happy cows living in sunny California--who they say produce the best cheese-- to those mad European cows, who can scare the beef eating right out of you, the role of cows in human health has been the focus of several hot health topics recently.

There have been several studies that warn of the risks of eating beef or high-fat dairy products, but there have also been several studies that prove the benefits of dairy and calcium and how dairy foods can help regulate body fat. The conflicting results of these studies shouldn't come as a surprise, though. The human body is so complex that when one thing is found to be good for something, it’s inevitable that someone will find out that it’s bad for something else.

The latest study into dairy, however, is somewhat of a kicker though. For so long the health industry has been touting the benefits of a low-fat diet not only for weight loss but also to keep our arteries from being clogged. That fact is undisputed. But a recent study done by Swedish researchers has thrown a wrench into our thoughts on dairy. Their nine-year study of 19,000 women between the ages of 40 and 55 found that whole (full-fat) milk was linked to lower weight. The women who drank or ate at least one serving of whole milk or cheese gained less weight than their counterparts who drank skim milk and consumed less dairy.

These findings were published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. The theories as to why the study produced the results that it did point to the type of fat found in dairy products. Dairy fat is called conjugated linoleic acid, or CLA, and is believed to aid in weight control. Now this might seem like great news to some, but the authors of this study advise not to dismiss the fact that choosing low-fat dairy products is still healthier for our arteries and for a healthy heart.

People should take these studies with a grain of salt (but not too much salt, of course.) According to the study’s lead author Dr. Magdalena Rosell, a researcher at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, this correlation between weight gain and dairy intake might not accurately assess the role dairy foods play in weight loss.

Several factors play a role in studies such as these and should be considered when forming conclusions based on these studies. For instance, the women surveyed who drank whole-milk might have led lifestyles which helped them to better control their weight, and the women who drank fat-free milk may have been already gaining weight and then decided to switch from drinking whole-milk.

So is whole milk good for you or not? Another recent study only adds to the confusion.

It’s no secret that tea drinkers reap many benefits from their choice of beverage. Tea (especially black or green tea) contains catechins, those wonderful antioxidants that can aid in lowering the risk of heart disease and possibly some forms of cancer. The health benefits to your heart come from tea’s ability to relax your arteries thus increasing blood flow. According to a study published in the European Heart Journal drinking black tea ‘straight up’ improved cardiovascular function.

But how do you prefer your tea? With milk or honey and lemon? If you said "with milk," you may be neutralizing the health benefits of your tea drinking, a new study reports. Times Online reported that the researchers in this study found that the addition of milk “completely blunted the effects of tea.”

The culprits appear to be a group of proteins in milk called caseins. These proteins, when added to tea, tend to decrease the amount of catechins. So your best bet? Drink your tea, but drink it straight up or with honey or lemon.

Of course, when it comes to dairy products and weight loss, all these studies can't compare with first hand information straight from the horse’s (or should I say cow’s) mouth. As a well respected dairy farmer in upstate New York advises, “Milk cows by hand, lose more weight.”

So there you have it. According to our farmers, milk is good for you depending on how you use it!

Foxnews.com Health contributor Karen Gifford contributed to this story.

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Dr. Manny Alvarez is the managing editor of health news at FOXNews.com, and is a regular medical contributor on the FOX News Channel. He is chairman of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Reproductive Science at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey. Additionally, Alvarez is Adjunct Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at New York University School of Medicine in New York City.

Dr. Manny Alvarez serves as Fox News Channel's Senior Managing Editor for Health News. Prior to this position, Alvarez was a FNC medical contributor.
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