The Truth About Low-Fat Versus Full-Fat Dairy

The era of low-fat food fixation is over with more healthcare professionals advising that the healthy fats found in foods such as olive oil, nuts, seeds, and avocados are good for you. But the jury remains out on dairy products. Organizations like the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics still recommend that you stick to skim or low-fat versions of dairy, as do the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, says AARP.

Milk is one of most naturally nutritious beverages on the planet, says Healthline. For decades nutrition guidelines have advised that people over the age of two consume only low-fat dairy products. However, in recent years, scientists have changed their minds. Recent studies even suggest that skim milk might not be the best option. Milk usually comes in three varieties:

• whole milk: 3.25% milk fat

• low-fat milk: 1% milk fat

• skim: less than 0.5% milk fat

Whole milk has more calories because of the fat content and each type of milk contains a similar amount of micronutrients. However, whole milk has more omega-3 fatty acids, a type of fat that has been associated with many health benefits, says Healthline. Whole milk does contain saturated fat which has been thought to cause heart disease. But emerging research indicates that eating moderate amounts of saturated fat does not directly cause heart disease.

Studies have also shown that drinking whole milk doesn’t cause weight gain. In fact, consuming high-fat dairy products may help support weight management. One recent review of 29 studies concluded that full-fat dairy consumption was not associated with weight gain or fat gain in children.

Whole milk may lower your risk for chronic diseases such as metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes. In one large study, people with the highest amount of dairy-derived fatty acids in their bloodstreams had a 44% lower rate of diabetes. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition looked at patients with metabolic syndrome — a cluster of conditions that raise the risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes and stroke — and found that a diet rich in full-fat dairy had no effect on blood pressure or cholesterol compared to a diet limited in dairy or rich in low-fat dairy, says AARP.

A previous study found that even older adults who consumed whole-fat dairy products had a lower risk of death from all causes, as well as a lower risk of heart disease. The bottom line, says cardiologist Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, is to “stop making blanket statements such as ‘Avoid full-fat dairy because it is high in saturated fat’.” Mozaffarian, dean of the Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, suggests eating more fermented dairy products such as yogurt and cheese and drinking fermented milk products such as kefir to get the most health benefits.

Research has found that these dairy products lower the risk of both death and cardiovascular disease. This may be because they contain probiotics that help regulate body weight and insulin levels.

“This may also help explain why consumption of cheese, which is the dairy product that tends to be highest in fat, is also associated with a significantly lower risk of both coronary artery disease and stroke,” said Mozaffarian. But like any recommendation, experts advise tempering consumption of high-fat dairy foods with moderation. Full-fat dairy products do contain more calories so limit intake to a few servings daily. Watch the sugar content of the yogurt you buy, and instead of choosing flavored brands add your own fruit or vanilla for extra taste.

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