The new report, which was published last week by the Credit Suisse Research Institute, found that sales of butter in the United States rose 14 percent last year and climbed another 6 percent in the first three months of 2015. Sales of whole milk rose 11 percent in the first half of this year, while skim milk purchases fell 14 percent. The report also predicted that consumption of red meat and eggs would climb in the coming years.
The trends reflect what appears to be a shift away from processed foods and toward those that are considered more wholesome, even when they contain saturated fat and other macronutrients that were once vilified as unhealthy, such as dietary cholesterol, said Stefano Natella, the Global Head for Equity Research at Credit Suisse and an author of the new report.
“I think this is part of a trend toward more natural foods — more organic, unprocessed and simple foods,” he said. “All these foods have a natural characteristic attached to them. Full-fat milk sounds a lot more natural to people than 2 percent or skim milk. Cows don’t produce skim milk. You have to process it to take out the fat.”
In recent years, a number of studies have cast doubt on the health benefits of the traditional low-fat diet, suggesting instead that eating more fat — with the exception of trans fats — and less sugar and refined carbohydrates might be better for overall health.
But there is still debate over the health effects of saturated fat. Most public health authorities recommend steering clear of it and eating mostly unsaturated fat, like the kinds found in vegetable oils, nuts, seeds and avocados. Others say this advice, which stems from the notion that eating saturated fat promotes heart disease, is not supported by scientific evidence.
The trends identified in the new report suggest that Americans have not been embracing the advice on saturated fat long dispensed by the federal government and groups like the American Heart Association, which for decades have told Americans to cut it from their diets.
The federal Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which were first issued in 1980 and are updated every five years, recommend that people limit their saturated fat intake to less than 10 percent of total calories. The guidelines encourage people to replace butter, cream and tropical oils with the unsaturated fats in soybean, corn, olive and canola oils. And they also advise people to choose low-fat or nonfat dairy foods instead of cheese and whole milk, allowing them to get the vitamins and minerals in milk without the saturated fat.
The 2015 dietary guidelines have not yet been finalized. But the advisory panel that shapes the guidelines recommended earlier this year that Americans eat fewer animal-based products and more plant-based foods such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds. The advisory panel said that Mediterranean-style and vegetarian diets were good examples of this approach, and that such diets are “more health promoting” and “associated with less environmental impact.”
The advisory panel continued its hard stance on saturated fat and raised concerns about added sugars and sodium as well. But the panel backed away from a longstanding restriction on cholesterol-rich foods like eggs and shrimp, an acknowledgment that dietary cholesterol is not the villain it was once thought to be. The panel also dropped another decades-old recommendation from the low-fat era that people limit their total intake of dietary fat.
The new report by Credit Suisse found that sales of butter, cheese and milk were rising nationwide, along with sales of almonds and eggs. In the past year egg consumption rose 2 percent while organic egg consumption grew 21 percent, the report said.
Similar trends may be occurring in other countries as well. Sales of butter rose 9 percent in the Britain last year, and global consumption of butter is growing at a rate of 2 to 4 percent, the report stated. It also found that red meat consumption per capita in Europe was growing, that demand for fat and protein would increase in the coming years, and that carbohydrate intake from bread and pasta was slipping.
“Durum pasta sales in Western Europe were down 13 percent in the last five years, with Italy showing a 25 percent decline,” the report stated. “In the U.S., volumes are down 6 percent. Bread consumption in France is declining at a rate of 1.5 percent a year.”
The authors of the report said they based their findings on information from global databases on food consumption, a review of over 400 scientific papers and books, and interviews with academics and industry experts. The report was prepared in large part to provide Wall Street with insight into changes in consumer purchasing habits.
“We believe that consumers are at a turning point,” the report stated.
The Credit Suisse Research Institute produced a similar report two years ago on sugar, which found that sugar consumption in the last 30 years had risen 45 percent globally, resulting in the average person consuming about 70 grams daily, or roughly 17 teaspoons.