The truth about low-fat dairy versus full-fat dairy

The era of the low-fat fixation is over, and more health professionals are warning that healthy fats found in foods like olive oil, nuts, seeds, and avocados are good for you. But the jury is still 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, AARP says.

Milk is one of the most 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 may not be the best option. Milk generally 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 due to 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 contains saturated fats that are believed 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 does not cause weight gain. In fact, consuming high-fat dairy products can help with weight control. A 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 reduce the risk of 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 bloodstream had 44% less diabetes. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition looked at patients with metabolic syndrome, a group of conditions that increase the risk of 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 with a diet limited in dairy products or rich in low-fat dairy products, says AARP.

An earlier study found that even older adults who ate full-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 like ‘Avoid full-fat dairy products because they’re high in saturated fat.'” Mozaffarian, dean of the Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, suggests eating more fermented dairy products like yogurt and cheese and drinking fermented dairy products like kefir to reap the most health benefits.

Research has found that these dairy products reduce 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 tends to be the highest fat dairy product, is also associated with a significantly lower risk of coronary artery disease and stroke,” Mozaffarian said. But like any recommendation, experts advise moderating the consumption of high-fat dairy products in moderation. Full-fat dairy products contain more calories, so limit your intake to a few servings daily. Keep an eye on the sugar content of the yogurt you buy, and instead of choosing flavored brands, add your own fruit or vanilla for extra flavor.

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