Full fat milk vs semi-skimmed? Butter vs marg? Making sense of the health headlines

Full fat milk vs semi-skimmed? Butter vs marg? Making sense of the health headlines

Dramatic health headlines tend to catch our attention but they can be confusing when we’re told to do one thing, only to be told something different later.

Obviously as time goes by, research into what we eat changes and with it, the health advice that comes our way. But keeping up with the latest train of thought can be tricky. So to help make sense of some of the health claims recently making headlines, we asked three independent nutrition experts to break down the facts. 

Full-fat milk vs semi-skimmed

While we always woke up to full-fat milk on our doorsteps as children, over the years we’ve been encouraged to switch to semi-skimmed as the lighter option. However, some experts now suggest full-fat milk could be better for us after all.

Dr Emma Derbyshire, a Public Health Nutritionist, says: “Full-fat milk provides us with a valuable source of nutrients we need for strong bones and healthy organs. Semi-skimmed milk obviously has a lower fat content than full-fat, usually 1.5 per cent fat compared to 3.8 per cent, but its nutritional profile is not as strong. Full-fat milk is fine, unless you’ve been told to lose weight, in which case semi-skimmed may be better for you.”

Should I eat eggs? 

Over just a few decades, advice on eggs has gone the full 360°! The main cause was around the high level of dietary cholesterol in eggs – plus a period in the Eighties when Edwina Currie (above) declared all eggs had salmonella. 

Dr Juliet Gray, a registered nutritionist and independent advisor to the British Egg Council says: “Early research carried out four decades ago suggested cholesterol in eggs could increase the risk of heart disease by raising blood cholesterol levels, so we were told to cap our consumption. Subsequent research has disproved this and now all major UK heart and health advisory groups have lifted any previous limits on egg consumption.

 “Eggs provide high-quality protein, omega-3 fatty acids and a range of essential vitamins and minerals. There’s good evidence that they may help reduce the rate of muscle loss in older people and help with weight control – by keeping you fuller for longer – too.

“I advise buying eggs stamped with the British Lion mark to assure quality.”

Smoothies vs unliquidised fruit 

Last year, homemade smoothies were all the healthy-eating rage. Then came news they could make us fat, causing us to overeat on calories. 

Hala El-Shafie, a registered dietician and founder of nutrition-rocks.co.uk says: “How calorific your smoothie is depends on what you’re putting in it and your portion size. If you’re adding nuts, peanut butter and nut milk, you could end up with a smoothie with more calories than an average meal, as well as a lot of sugar, which may cause an energy crash. On the other hand, there’s no question fruit and vegetables are beneficial, protecting us from strokes, high blood pressure and even some cancers. 

“Smoothies can be a useful addition to our daily fruit and veg intake, as well as providing vitamins and minerals. But making a smoothie strips the fruit of the pulp and fibre that helps keep our gut healthy. As for shop-bought smoothies, check the label for no added sugars and limit yourself to 250ml a day.”

Should I eat red meat?

Meat used to be the staple of our dinner plate. Then we were told we should have at least one meat-free day a week. 

Dr Derbyshire, who's also an expert on the Meat Advisory Panel says. “The issue surrounds red meat, which provides zinc, protein, vitamins and phosphorous as well as iron, which many women lack. But meat can be high in fat and, eaten in excess, has been linked to an increased risk of bowel cancer. The World Cancer Research Fund recommends eating no more than 500g of cooked red meat over five days a week, in a portion the size of a pack of cards.”

Butter vs margarine

Butter fell out of favour when it was linked to saturated fats (found in animal products) that increased the risk of cholesterol and heart disease.

Many experts are more concerned about trans fats in margarine now, which are known to increase the risk of heart disease and stroke. While they are being slowly phased out, they appear in some products, labelled as hydrogenated fat or vegetable oils. Dr Derbyshire says: “Opt for margarines such as Benecol, which lowers cholesterol, or use unsalted butter.”