Q: My friend sent me something off the internet that says switching to lard and dripping for cooking will help my kids' allergies. Can this be right?
A: There is no science to support the assertion that a diet high in saturated fat can reduce allergies. We consider this advice irresponsible, given the abundance of evidence that such a diet is bad for heart health.
On the other hand, consumption of low-fat dairy products is associated with lower blood pressure and is advocated for protection against osteoporosis. Observational studies have also shown there could be a factor in dairy products which helps protect children against allergic diseases such as eczema, hay fever and asthma, but the research is at an early stage.
At Auckland University, researchers are investigating whether a small amount of butter in the diet can help asthma symptoms in children aged two to 16 years. Lead researcher Professor Peter Black says they are using butter enriched with CLA – one of the fats in dairy – as their studies in mice indicated CLA could be a protective factor. He says the amount of butter given to the children is only 10g (or two teaspoons) per day as it would not be responsible to give them very large amounts of butter on a daily basis.
Butter is used in their research as a convenient means to trial CLA-enriched dairy and Professor Black emphasises he does not advocate a diet high in saturated fat. He notes research from Europe has found the traditional Mediterranean diet, which includes low-fat dairy, may also be protective against allergic diseases.